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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Let the games begin

By Tony Pizza

When the Red Rocks travel to Athens, Ga., to take on the Georgia Gym Dogs, it won’t just be a reunion of familiar faces. It will be an assembly of the two most successful teams in NCAA gymnastics history.

Between Georgia and Utah, the schools have combined to win 16 of a possible 25 NCAA titles. While Utah dominated the gymnastics scene by winning the bulk of its titles during the ’80s and early ’90s, Georgia has been on the pinnacle since then, winning five of its seven national titles in the last 13 years. This year the Gym Dogs, who are winners of the last two national championships, are attempting to join the Utes as the only other team in collegiate gymnastics to win three straight titles.

The Gym Dogs are lead by Suzanne Yoculan, whose 750 wins are the second most in collegiate gymnastics history behind Red Rock honcho Greg Marsden’s 855 career wins.

As successful as both teams have been over the last 25 years, Utah and Georgia have historically had little exposure to one another outside of nationals. Of the 38 meets in which the two teams have faced each other, only seven were during the regular season.

Before 2005, when the two schools decided to resume the 1,937-mile trek between each other’s campuses during the regular season, the two teams hadn’t faced each other outside the national title meet since the Utes made their last championship run in 1995. Now, two of the nation’s top gymnastics giants seem committed to facing each other every year. So far, the meets have been nothing short of enthralling.

The combined margin of victory of the last two regular-season meetings between these championship contenders has been thinner than a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model’s thong. When the Utes made the transcontinental journey to Athens during the regular season in 2005, they hoped to put an end to their two-meet losing streak against the Gym Dogs. Instead, Georgia put an end to its four-meet losing streak by beating Utah by .125 points. Georgia used that victory as a springboard to its first national championship of the new millennium.

The following year, Utah played host to the defending national champs and led by 0.025 points going into the final rotation. With the Utes on the floor, and Georgia facing the combined pressure of the 4-inch balance beam and 13,000 screaming Utah fans, the Gym Dogs outperformed the Utes on the final rotation by 0.05 points and snuck by the Red Rocks 197.1-197.025.

With the teams being so close to equal, Marsden and Yoculan have found other avenues to one-up each other.

“When you go down there, (Yoculan) will come up beside you and say, ‘I think our leotards look better than yours, don’t you?’ I mean, everything is a competition,” Marsden said with a laugh. “While I like to think of myself as not that extreme about it, when I think about it, I’m like, ‘No, I think our leotards are much better than yours.'”

Aside from the intense team competition, individual gymnasts from Utah and Georgia have had notable clashes as of late.

Friday will be a rematch of last year’s uneven bar final between the U’s Kristina Baskett and Georgia’s Courtney Kupets. The two gymnasts competed to a 9.85 draw last April, and coincidently, both gymnasts are coming off season-highs on that event.

“I’m just going to approach it like any other meet, because if I put added pressure on myself, it will be harder to perform through this,” Baskett said.

Kupets and U gymnast Ashley Postell will also be facing each other for the first time since the two finished first and second, respectively, in the All-Around during individual finals at Nationals last year.

Despite being big gymnastics rivals, Georgia and Utah have several former club gymnastics pairs split between the two teams. Georgia freshman Courtney McCool and U freshman Sarah Shire — both Olympic silver medalists — were gymnasts at GAGE gymnastics, located just outside Kansas City, Mo.

“It’s going to be cool to see how (McCool) has changed and kinda see her again because I haven’t seen her since August,” Shire said.

Postell and Georgia’s Katie Heenan were also Capital Gymnastics teammates in Burke, Va., while the U’s Nina Kim was a teammate of Gym Dogs Nikki Childs and Megan Dowlen at WAGO near Dallas, Texas.

Besides being club gymnastic teammates, many gymnasts from both sides have competed on various Elite, Junior Olympic and national teams together.

Tyler Cobb

Women’s gymnastics coach Greg Marsden spots Nicolle Ford as she performs on the vault last week in the Red Rocks’ win over Utah State. The Red Rocks travel east this weekend to face No. 2-ranked Georgia.

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