The return of the queen

The No. 6 U gymnastics team (8-1) was brilliant last week.

It almost flawlessly executed its routines, on its way to a score of 198.05, the second-best score in team history.

But that was, after all, last week. The question surrounding the Red Rocks this week is: Where to we go from here?

The answer: Seattle, Washington.

“We’re back on the road this week and Washington’s a very good team, they just beat UCLA last week, and what we haven’t done very well is perform consistently away from home,” U coach Greg Marsden said.

The Red Rocks will have to reverse that trend this week if they want to significantly improve their national ranking before regionals.

Marsden addressed this issue and others, while qualifying the importance of this weekend’s trip to Washington.

“[This meet] is the most important regular-season meet remaining for two reasons: First, away-meet scores count more heavily toward seeding into regionals, and second, we need to gain confidence in our ability to compete consistently on the road going into postseason competition,” Marsden said.

This is the last regular-season road trip for the Utes this season, so it’s the last chance for them to test their road wares before they are put on the big stage of regionals and possibly nationals.

Fortunately for the Utes, they will get this opportunity against a couple of the finest programs in college gymnastics this season, No. 16 Iowa (8-3) and No. 12 Washington (7-3-1).

The Utes and the Huskies have already met with Iowa this season, and both were victorious against the Hawkeyes.

Nonetheless, Iowa features two very talented gymnasts in Stephanie Gran and Alexis Maday, who are both capable of winning the all-around competition.

The Huskies also feature two all around gymnasts capable of putting up big scores, including Kelly McDonald, who has a season-high score of 39.825.

The only other gymnast competing in the meet with a higher all-around score this season is Melissa Vituj (39.875).

“Both Washington and Iowa are very good teams this year,” Marsden said. “This will be a valuable challenge for us because it will give us a taste of what’s ahead in the postseason in terms of the level of competition we’ll face and the pressures of doing well on the road.”

The Utes get a boost coming into the meet with the return of juniors All-American Annabeth Eberle and Gritt Hofmann, who have combined to hit 27 of 27 routines this year. However, the Red Rocks will be without the services of freshman phenom Nicolle Ford, who is nursing a bad back.

“We’ve had it X-rayed and MRIed and we’re not finding any stress fractures or disc problems, so that’s the good news,” Marsden said. “That makes me feel like if we give her a little time off and do some rehab, we may be able to get her ready for the post season, which is where we really need her.”

Marsden has been careful with his gymnasts over the past few weeks and will continue to be so until the postseason begins.

The various injuries have plagued the Utes and not allowed them to perform at full strength throughout the season.

Although the Utes will still work on a few upgrades, the focus will be team health, over team improvement.

“We still want to try to improve, but we’re pretty much there on everything, so now it’s a matter of working on consistency and trying to keep people healthy,” Marsden said.

Although it sounds like a conservative approach, expect the Utes to hold nothing back as they take on Washington, Iowa and Illinois-Chicago today at 6 p.m.

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