Turning lemons into lemonade

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

It turns out a loss isn’t always worse than a win — at least in certain circumstances. It seems that is the exact situation the U gymnastics team has on its hands after two losses to top-10 competition in three weeks.

“This thing is too competitive. There are too many teams that want to be (at nationals) and are capable of being there to take anything for granted,” U head coach Greg Marsden said. “That’s why as hard as the Georgia (loss) and even the loss Sunday (was), I’m not convinced those are all bad for us.”

It’s not that Marsden was down on his knees asking to lose, either. It’s just that those two losses to Georgia and Nebraska have signaled a mental turnaround that the Red Rock head coach knew his team needed to make if it was going to evolve into serious competitors for a national title.

“I think we really had been — in the early season — a team divided,” Marsden said. “There were the freshmen and the upperclassmen, and I think there was some animosity between the groups. I think the fact that (the freshmen) have stepped up now and have done such a nice job for us?has really brought us together.”

Marsden first saw things start to change after the Utes went down to Georgia on Feb. 16 and basically got thumped by a more prepared team. Maybe it was the fact that the Utes found out that they have a long way to go before they can consider themselves on the same page as the best teams in the nation, but something clicked.

The Utes knew they were on their way toward something special against Michigan before injuries and a few more stumbles on floor left them unfulfilled. But just like an animal that plays it safe until its back is against the wall, the Utes came out against a very good Nebraska team and actually gained a moral victory in a losing effort.

Besides hitting on 23 of 24 events and not having to count a single fall toward their final score, the Utes finally came together as a team.

The Utes also found out other people were willing to step up outside of competition when the team needed it most.

With the Utes already having to go without the motivation of Nicolle Ford, their captain, and having to deal with a sparser-than-normal crowd, the Utes found themselves sapped for energy once warm-ups rolled around. But the Utes got an impromptu pick-me-up speech from an unexpected source.

“Queenie (Ford) wasn’t there and we were struggling for motivation, and I was like, ‘Someone’s got to do it,'” Katie Kivisto said. “It was a good meet for the team; we pulled together. So it was good — I felt like I could contribute to that.”

Kivisto was oblivious to the effects of her self-imposed team meeting until Nina Kim told her how much it meant after the meet. Kim wasn’t the only one to appreciate what Kivisto did.

“It was really good to see, because Katie (Kivisto) has been somebody who’s — in the past — been willing to stand back and let others take charge,” Marsden said. “It was really rewarding to see her, without any encouragement, just take it upon herself to do that.”

With so many positives coming in the wake of defeat, it was no surprise to see the Red Rocks in high spirits at the start of practice Tuesday. No one was more enthused than Ford — and not just because she had her staple 24-ounce energy drink in hand.

If all goes well in practice this week, Ford’s absence in the lineup will have only lasted one week. Marsden even forecasted that, at this point, it looks like Ford will be competing on bars and beam when the Red Rocks host the No. 1 Florida Gators on Friday.

Also poised to join the lineup after a two-week hiatus is Annie DiLuzio. Although it is still unclear where exactly she might be inserted back into the lineup, she did some walkthroughs on a couple apparatuses — including beam — yesterday.

“If Nicolle (Ford) and Annie (DiLuzio) both are in the lineup and doing what they’re capable of, there’s no doubt we’re a better team with them,” Marsden said.

This all comes as good news for the Utes, who seem on the cusp of finally putting all their hard work together in a collective effort.

“In spite of who the opponent is, or maybe because of who the opponent is, we need to get better each week,” Marsden said. “We still have the talent, the ability and the wherewithal to get on a roll and be very competitive when the end of the season rolls around. Will we do that? Only time will tell.”

Friday’s meet will begin at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center. Students get in free with a UCard.