U faces challenge in Ann Arbor

The No. 4 U gymnastics team (5-0) is on its way to Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Red Rocks will face one of their toughest challenges of the season against the No. 12 Wolverines of Michigan (6-2) on Saturday.

“This is going to be a competition between two teams that are doing very well right now,” U coach Greg Marsden said. “If both teams are on that night, it will be a great gymnastics meet because there’s a lot of talent on both squads.”

Michigan has always been a thorn in Utah’s side, especially lately. The Wolverines have beaten the Red Rocks twice in a row and have never lost to them in Ann Arbor. Utah does have the series edge, 10-8, but the two teams are dead-even (4-4) in regular-season competition.

“Michigan is a place we typically haven’t been at our best in the past, so we’d love to buck that trend, especially since they upset us here last year,” Marsden said.

Compounding Red Rock apprehension is Michigan’s recent resurgence. Although the Wolverines began the season inconspicuously, with team scores of 195.075 and 194.650, they have since picked up the intensity and scored in the 197s in their last two meets. Until last weekend, the Wolverines were 2-2, but they are coming off the State of Michigan Classic, where they beat four teams by more than a full point.

The Red Rocks, however, are also rolling into Ann Arbor. Their 5-0 record speaks for itself, but what it does not reflect is the impressive fashion in which they dominated then-No. 8 Iowa last Friday. The Red Rocks posted the nation’s fourth-best score of the year and the sixth-best in school history.

It will be difficult to repeat that performance on the road, but the Utes did turn in their only other score in the 197s at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, where they upset then-No. 1 UCLA.

It will probably take such a score to beat the Wolverines on their home turf, and the Red Rocks certainly have the athletes to do it. Junior Annabeth Eberle is currently the nation’s No. 4 all around performer, with an average of 39.625.

Freshmen Nicolle Ford and Rachel Tidd are both coming off their best all-around performances of their short careers last week, finishing second and third, respectively, behind Eberle.

The gymnast to watch this Saturday, however, might be senior Melissa Vituj, who is returning home to Michigan and expects to be performing in front of numerous friends and family members. Vituj has been solid this season, but has not put all four events together in a meet. The added motivation of a homecoming might be just the spark she needs.

Vituj was the only Ute to miss on an event last Friday, as she fell off the beam attempting a difficult maneuver. Other than that mishap, the Red Rocks were flawless as a team.

“We had our best meet so far this season last Friday night,” Marsden said. “With that said, there’s still so much room for improvement. I hope we can stay healthy and continue to work aggressively.”

Improvement has been the focus for the Utes this week, as they have been “working feverishly to get some upgrades ready,” according to Marsden. This could result in higher scores if the Utes are able to hit their more difficult routines, but could also backfire if the increased difficulty results in more mistakes.

Utah’s success may well be contingent upon the success of their leadoff performers, specifically the gymnast who begins the first event, which will be the uneven bars.

Dominique D’Oliveira filled this role for the Red Rocks in the first four meets of the season, but was replaced by freshman Stephanie Lim last week. The last time D’Oliveira opened on the road was in Provo, where she fell off the apparatus and scored a 9.125 en route to the Utes’ worst event score of the year (47.950).

The Red Rocks were able to rebound and beat the Cougars, but if the same thing happens in Ann Arbor, don’t expect such an easy comeback.

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