Gymnasts Deserve NCAA Title

In my two years as a Daily Utah Chronicle sports staffer, I have reported on nearly every type of sport the U sponsors.

I have done write-ups for men’s basketball, skiing, baseball, golf, men’s and women’s tennis, football, volleyball?the only ones I can think of never covering are soccer and softball, not yet at least.

And throughout my myriad of athletic coverage, I have been no more impressed than by the overall character and quality of the U gymnastics team.

I was surprised as well, not really possessing an interest in the sport when I was assigned to cover the traditional powerhouse a year ago.

But now I have come to appreciate the program over which I once rolled my eyes.

For the 27th consecutive season, U coach Greg Marsden has his gymnasts in the hunt for the title. The U’s is the only program to qualify for every national championship since gymnastics became a varsity sport in 1975.

Utah, currently No. 4, was twice ranked No. 1 in the nation this season, on Jan. 28 and Feb. 1, and three weeks ago the team scored the second-highest mark in women’s collegiate gymnastics history.

The team has a 23-year-old (Yes, older than I or any gymnast on the team) streak of consecutive regular season home wins, dating back to Feb. 20, 1979.

But the athletic achievements the team has enjoyed isn’t necessarily the point.

Marsden and the U gymnasts have proven that a top-tier program can be both successful and a class act.

Now, athletes generally aren’t the problem when covering any given sport. The problems lie with specific coaching policies and their lack of accommodation.

Before NCAA Regionals began two weeks ago, I featured the rise to prominence by Ute freshman all-arounder Annabeth Eberle.

Now, should a U men’s basketball freshman rise out of the limelight, warranting a feature of his talents and background, it would not be possible.

A certain well-rounded basketball coach has a distinct policy that freshman athletes cannot share their reactions to an athletic contest with the media.

Call it a supposition of immaturity, or perhaps the unconscious, tongue-in-cheek reactions that teenagers of today tend to display (Even though soon-to-be senior Britton Johnsen has a cache reserve of those comments). No matter what the explanation, it’s policy.

Not so with the gymnastics program.

Despite owning a program that garners national attention, Marsden leaves open the opportunity for interview sessions before practice and even has practice open to media members.

The gymnasts don’t carry themselves arrogantly before or after they’ve put the hurting on a team.

If only U basketball coach Rick Majerus could take lessons.

And the gymnastics program epitomizes the term student-athlete, something not-so-commonly found today in NCAA athletics.

The entire team was on the honor roll Fall Semester, and six of the 10 team members had grade point averages above 3.5, earning them Dean’s List status.

And the fans continue to show. Opposing coaches and athletes alike mire at the strong following the Utes have in the Jon M. Huntsman Center.

After competing in front of crowds of 1,501 at Logan,, 1,306 at Michigan or 870 at Washington, the Rocks come home to an exceptional hometown following of 10,596 against Minnesota and 14,285 versus BYU.

The team just won its 19th gymnastics attendance title in the last 21 years.

All said, Marsden runs a first-class program and the team deserves similar results. Even if it doesn’t win the national championship, the athletes will be better off.

The program is a model for others. Maybe that’s the reason they stay in the hunt every year.

Rory welcomes feedback at: [email protected]