Utes perform big, take regionals

S-Gym Colby Patterson
The Red Rocks pose for a photo after winning the Fayetteville, Ark. regional. Photo courtesy of University of Utah Athletics.

The Red Rocks pose for a photo after winning the Fayetteville, Ark. regional. Photo courtesy of University of Utah Athletics.

Utah was able to punch its ticket to a record 39th straight nationals appearance by winning the Fayetteville, Ark. regional Saturday afternoon with a score of 197.300.

Despite a sluggish start on bars, the Red Rocks rode solid performances and did what they had to do in order to solidify their spot at nationals in Birmingham, Ala. in two weeks.

“Any time you come out on top, you feel good,” said co-head coach Greg Marsden. “Some of the little things weren’t there, but that is reflective of what type of meet this is. If you don’t come in first or second, your season is over. All the teams struggled in places tonight, which is not unusual for a regional meet. We were just solid on every event, not spectacular.”

UCLA, which finished in second place with a score of 196.600, will be joining Utah at nationals.

The meet wasn’t easy for the Red Rocks, though. After scoring a tenth below its season average on bars, Utah sat in third place behind the Bruins and Arkansas after the first rotation. The Red Rocks needed a big performance from their beam squad and that’s exactly what they got.

Utah was only given a 49.200 on the event, but Marsden believes Saturday’s rotation was the best beam set of the season. With the pressure of a trip to Alabama on the line, all six Red Rocks stayed on the beam, led by senior Mary Beth Lofgren’s score of 9.900.

“I think we just wanted to go in and hit and do what we know how to do,” Lofgren said. “We pulled it together on beam.”

Lofgren was leading the field in the event on her way to being the regional champion until UCLA’s Samantha Peszek got a 9.950.

“It feels great,” Lofgren said of her runner-up performance on beam. “I’m so proud of this whole team. We didn’t have a perfect night, but it was still a great time.”

After the clutch performance on beam, Utah still found itself sitting in third place. Using their final bye of the competition to regroup, the Red Rocks looked to finish strong on their best events, floor and vault.

They started slow on floor, but Becky Tutka, Georgia Dabritz and Nansy Damianova all received scores of at least 9.925 to finish things out.

Damianova’s score of 9.950 was good enough to tie for the regional title on the event, the third of her career. Utah’s score of 49.525 was tied for the highest score of the meet on the mat with UCLA.

Heading into vault, the Red Rocks all but had the title locked up as the Razorbacks and Bruins did poorly on their final events, but Marsden’s bunch still wanted to finish strong. Utah got just the third-highest score of the day on vault, but its 49.325 was enough to secure the victory.

“[The meet] was tight,” Marsden said. “After [bars and beam], we really relaxed. We know the leg events are our strengths and have been from the first meet of the year. So while we were in a meet and other teams were doing well, we were confident.”

Up next for the Red Rocks is the meet for all the marbles, the NCAA Championships from April 18-20. Until then, Utah will rest some then sharpen up in preparation for nationals.

“We’re gonna let them recover,” Marsden said. “We’ll slowly get back into it. You have to come down a little bit from these meets and then push a little bit when they get closer.”

g.adams@chronicle.utah.edu