Red Rocks bring stiff competition to Georgia (4/22)

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

Click here for our complete coverage of the 2008 NCAA National Championshps

ESPN is holding a fan-fueled quest to determine which American city should hold the moniker Titletown, U.S.A.

Someone should nominate Athens, Ga.

Athens is home to the Georgia Gym Dogs, three-time defending women’s collegiate gymnastics national champions. Georgia has nine national championships in its rich history — second only to Utah (10) — and has been on a tear for the past few years.

When nationals are held from April 24 to April 26 in Athens, Ga., all eyes will be on Georgia as the team to beat.

“Realistically, I think it’s going to be a very daunting task to go there against a very good Georgia team — three-time defending national champions — with their crowd there (and win),” Utah head coach Greg Marsden said.

Despite losing two-time defending all-around national champion Courtney Kupets to a ruptured Achilles on March 1, Georgia has kept plowing through the competition and maintaining the No. 1 ranking in the country.

Utah defeated Georgia on Jan. 11 in the season opener for both teams but stayed behind the defending champs in the rankings all season long. Utah doesn’t pay too much attention to other team’s rankings and scores to avoid getting caught up in what it thinks is a frivolous barometer.

Several things contribute to varying scores across the country: region, different judges and who the competition is, as well as other factors.

“You can’t tell by scoring (how good another team is), but that’s the only way we can look at other teams,” junior Kristina Baskett said.

Therefore, the Utes try to just focus on what they’re doing.

That might be helpful after the performance the Red Rocks put forward during regionals. Utah’s 196.950 on April 12 in Minneapolis, Minn., fell behind six other regional scores posted by other national qualifying teams. Georgia exploded for a 197.775 and is peaking at the right time.

“We have a lot that we could have improved that would help our score,” Baskett said of the transition from regionals to nationals. “Hopefully we’ve saved the best meet.”

Georgia has proven that it intends to defend its trophy with everything it has. But it has some stiff competition.

“The defending champion is always to team to beat,” Utah assistant coach Jeff Graba said. “There are a lot of teams in the field that you can’t overlook.”

With potency radiating from all 12 teams competing in Athens, Ga., Utah can’t get too caught up in trumping Georgia, and Georgia must deal with being everyone’s target.

The only four programs to ever win a national championship — Utah, Georgia, UCLA and Alabama — all qualified for nationals. However, that doesn’t mean one of them will take home the championship. Florida has been brimming with potential in recent years, and several other programs have the tools to make history.

Utah hopes it can withstand the pressure put on by the other teams and get the opportunity to dethrone the Gym Dogs. In the end, the regular season and regional competition don’t mean a thing at nationals. Each team is trying to summon its greatest performance of the year and claim the national championship.

“You can’t predict when your good night is going to be,” Graba said. “You have to try to peak your team at the right time, and maybe it’s there.”

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