Utah's gymnasts performed one solid beam routine after another Friday, seemingly oblivious to the Gator chomps and the loud cheers Florida was earning as it posted its season-best floor score en route to its 197.700-196.875 win over the Utes.
"We had a great beam set, I thought," sophomore Annie DiLuzio said. "We kept pushing, even to the last minute, and we stuck together as a team."
Those were just the kind of reactions coach Greg Marsden was hoping to see out of his team when he scheduled regular season meets on the road against Super Six contenders like Florida on Friday and Michigan on Saturday. The Utes are no longer perfect, but even in a loss they showed the moxie it takes to win a national title, they believe.
"Did we want to win? Yeah we did, of course," Marsden said Friday, tucked away in a tunnel in Florida's O'Connell Center but still within earshot of the Gators' celebration. "But I told the team we have to keep it in perspective, it wasn't a disaster. We have some things we can continue to work on and we want to keep improving."
The rate of improvement will be tested soon enough against the Wolverines, who now stand with Oklahoma as the only undefeated teams in the country.
In a season when top-ranked Georgia has lost to No. 2 Utah and No. 4 Michigan, No. 3 Florida has lost to No. 6 Alabama, and perennially strong teams UCLA and Nebraska are struggling, the Utes aren't going to read too much into their defeat Friday.
They lost, but they didn't leave Gainesville feeling like they can't compete with the Gators.
"I know they don't feel they have it in the bag or anything like that, now with what teams have done this season," junior Kristina Baskett said. "This will give us motivation and we can't dwell on it. The important thing was it was better than last week."
The Utes finished Friday's competition with a 49.175 beam score as no gymnast scored lower than a 9.8. It was good, just not good enough to beat the Gators. The rotation was indicative of how the night went for the Utes. They hit 24-for-24 routines but were done in by little breaks and a hot Florida team.
"Their senior night, their last meet of the year, we knew they were going to be ready for us," Marsden said. "They're definitely one of the teams that will contend for the national championship and we'll see another one next week."
Still, it was a better loss than many of Utah's road wins were last year as they struggled to put together clean meets. The frustrations of 2007 are giving the Utes some comfort now.
"Look at last year," Baskett said. "We were nowhere where we are now and we pulled it off at nationals. We are a really good team when we are on. We'd rather win in April than now."
"I know they don't feel they have it in the bag or anything like that, now with what teams have done this season. This will give us motivation and we can't dwell on it. The important thing was it was better than last week."
KRISTINA BASKETT, junior