Time to prove it: U gymnasts take top ranking into NCAA Championships

By and

AUBURN, Ala.-The rankings posturing is over. There will be no more losses blamed on judges. Injuries cease to be “wait a week and see.”

After a dominating run through the 2005 regular season, the No. 1 Red Rocks now get to prove that they have what it takes to win it all as the 2005 NCAA Championships begin Thursday afternoon in Auburn, Ala.

The Utes own 10 championship banners, but they haven’t hung a new one since 1995. While they have had injuries to blame in recent close calls, the Utes are deep enough to be considered the favorite heading into the weekend.

“For the first time we have ever been at the NCAAs, I don’t feel as though we have to hope for other teams to make mistakes to give ourselves a chance [to win],” U head coach Greg Marsden said. “We can hold our own against everyone here.”

The team competition will be spread over two days, with 12 teams being divided into two sessions. The top three teams from each session, regardless of score, advance to Friday’s “Super Six.” The winner of that group will be crowned champion.

Joining the Utes in the afternoon session will be No. 3 LSU, No. 6 Nebraska, No. 8 Michigan, No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 11 Penn State.

“I like the session we drew,” Marsden said. “If we can get through the preliminary round and into team finals, the afternoon session will give us the opportunity to relax and provide the athletes with more time to recover.”

LSU is considered the dangerous team, but Nebraska is the only team in the session to have knocked off the Utes this season. The Red Rocks fell in Lincoln 196.650-196.600 on Feb. 20, after opening the season with a 6-0 record.

The Utes are a bit nicked up heading into nationals, with several gymnasts’ status so far up in the air that Marsden has not yet decided on a finished lineup.

The big decision involves sophomore all-arounder Rachel Tidd, who has been nursing a back injury all season.

Tidd’s condition creates a quandary. She is slated to participate on at least beam and vault, with the option of competing in the all-around if she feels up to it. But the event she will be most counted on is the vault-Utah’s last apparatus. If Tidd should reinjure herself during one of the other events, the U have few options come vault time.

Also, floor mainstay Gritt Hofmann is battling the injury bug, and will be a meet-time decision.

The evening session has several intriguing storylines. Since the inception of the NCAA championships, only three schools besides the U have won the title. Those other three-No. 2 UCLA, No. 4 Alabama, and No. 5 Georgia-will all compete in the same group. UCLA has won four out of the last five national titles, including last year on their home floor. Georgia joins Nebraska as the only two teams to have beaten the Utes this year.

Also in the evening session will be No. 13 BYU, making their first appearance at nationals in five years. The Cougs edged out higher seeded Oregon State in the NCAA regionals to earn a trip to Auburn. Being the lowest-ranked team in their session-No. 7 Florida and No. 9 Iowa State are the others-BYU has to be viewed as a longshot. But head coach Brad Cattermole is just proud his team has come this far.

“This year was our year to go,” Cattermole said. “This year it was meant to be us. We are thrilled to be here.”

The Utes will take to the mat Thursday at noon. Live scoring can be found online at www.auburntigers.com/2005NCAAGym.

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