In recent seasons, the Oregon State gymnastics team has provided a near-automatic win for the Utes. The Beavers, while good, haven't been a big threat to knock off the Utes, who have won the last five meetings. That image of a competitive but relatively harmless opponent has changed this season.
Seventh-ranked Oregon State (9-2) enters tonight's meet against the second-ranked Utes (9-0) as the highest-ranked opponent to make an appearance in the Huntsman Center other than top-ranked Georgia.
Oregon State's only losses have been to UCLA, and the Beavers look like a team very capable of qualifying for the NCAA Championships for the third year in a row.
In seasons past, the Utes could afford to make a few, or maybe even several, mistakes and beat the Beavers. That wouldn't work tonight, or in the coming weeks when the Utes travel to No. 3 Florida and No. 4 Michigan.
That's why Utah coach Greg Marsden views tonight's meet as crucial, not only to stay undefeated, but also to get his team back to the good level of gymnastics it was doing before last week's bye.
"They missed beam last meet or they probably would have beaten UCLA," Marsden said of Oregon State. "They were on a nine-meet win streak before that and are a very solid team. Then we go to No. 3 and No. 4 in places we've had a hard time winning, so there is no question the next three weeks are going to be a real test for us, and it will be interesting to see how we react to those challenges."
Oregon State was ranked No. 8 going into the NCAA regionals last year and qualified for nationals, where it didn't have a good showing and finished tied with Michigan for the lowest score on the first day.
However, coach Tanya Chaplin hoped the team's regular season success would bode well for 2008, and it has. The Beavers have had to count a fall just twice.
"It's not a surprise to me," Chaplin said. "We knew we were returning 24 of our 24 routines from last year and having that much depth on the entire team makes a big difference."
The Beavers have lost two gymnasts since the start, with freshman Becky Colvin sidelined with a ruptured Achilles' and senior Courtney Dennison retiring.
However, they've still been good enough to keep rising in the national rankings.
"We have a lot more depth than we've had in the past and we have strong tumblers," Chaplin said. "Even when we've had a miss the rest have come back with solid performances in the rest of the lineups."
While aware that Oregon State is a good team, the Utes said they are sticking with what has worked for them this year: not worrying about their competition but focusing on their own scores instead.
"They're having a good season so far and have posted big scores but if we are ranked above somebody or not, we go in and try to do our job," sophomore Annie DiLuzio said. "We try to beat our scores and hit 24 of 24 routines and stay focused on our team."
Utah's current regular season win streak is the fourth-longest in school history:
* 170: Jan. 19, 1979, to Jan. 10, 2003
* 17: March 7, 2003, to March 6, 2006
* 6: March 10, 2006, to March 9, 2007
* 5: March 23, 2007, to current
No. 7 Oregon State (9-2) at No. 2 Utah (9-0)
Where: Huntsman Center
When: Today, 7 p.m.
TV: Ch. 4 (tape delayed to 11 a.m. Sunday)
What to watch for: Nina Kim (foot), Kyndal Robarts (knee) and Stephanie Neff (Achilles') have recovered well from their injuries but still may be held limited in tonight's meet for precautionary reasons. . . . Oregon State is 0-27 against the Utes in Salt Lake City. . . . Oregon State's Jami Lanz is ranked third on the balance beam and No. 6 in the all-around and Mandi Rodriguez is ranked No. 7 on the vault and No. 11 on floor.
No. 23 SUU at BYU, 7 p.m.; San Jose State at Utah State, 6:30 p.m.