SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Sports) - The Pac-12 Networks picked a great meet for its first national live telecast of gymnastics, as No. 7 Utah and No. 10 Stanford went down to the wire before the Utes escaped with a 197.300-197.075 victory. Yet live TV and another major snowstorm didn’t deter 13,357 fans from showing up in the Huntsman Center and assisting in the victory.
“We really do have the best fans in the nation to come out in this weather,” marveled Utah coach Greg Marsden after Utah set a season high score.
By the buzz in the stands before Tory Wilson’s vault, most in the crowd hoped to witness another 10.0 from the nation’s leading vaulter. While Wilson scored “only” a 9.95 to tie for first place with Stanford’s Nicole Dayton, the fans did get their 10.0 in the end.
Junior Lia Del Priore, who came off the exhibition list just four meets ago after the season-ending injury to 2012 Pac-12 all-around champion Corrie Lothrop, scored a 10.0 from the No. 2 position on the floor exercise. It was Utah’s first 10.0 on floor since Annabeth Eberle’s perfect score seven years ago.
“The leg events are not an issue for us,” said Marsden. “I think we can hang with anyone on those two events (vault and floor). To prove his point, the Utes scored a season-high 49.500 on vault and a 49.525 on the floor. In contrast, Utah again struggled on beam, scoring a 49.025, although it did improve on bars from a week ago with a 49.250.
If the back and forth in the scoring column didn’t make it hard enough to differentiate between the two gymnastics titans, the identical leotards they wore for Utah’s first-ever “blackout” meet didn’t help.
The Utah leotards took a .375 lead at the midway point, but balance beam tipped the meet in the Cardinal’s favor. While Utah struggled on two of its six routines, the Cardinal rarely wavered from start to finish.
“We’re trying too hard on beam and we’re not confident,” said Marsden. “You have to feel like you can go to that event and win the meet. We had two spectacular training days on beam and then had balance checks and weren’t aggressive or confident (in the meet).”
The Utes were plenty confident on vault with Wilson remaining undefeated while picking up her seventh victory. Utah last had a gymnast win seven-straight vault titles in 2010 (Kyndal Robarts). Wilson got plenty of help from her supporting cast on the vault. Del Priore, Georgia Dabritz and Nansy Damianova all scored 9.90s, with career highs coming from Del Priore and Damianova. After the first rotation, Utah held what would prove its biggest lead of the night, 49.500-49.050.
On bars, freshman Breanna Hughes, who has been one of Utah’s steadiest performers all season, stumbled badly on her dismount, although she didn’t touch the mat. Her 9.525 score didn’t count toward the team total, however when the Utes came back with three 9.850s and Dabritz’s victorious 9.925 routine. After two events, Utah led the Cardinal 98.750-98.375.
Most of that lead disappeared in round three, although Mary Beth Lofgren’s 9.90 at the end of the beam lineup bailed the Utes out of a potentially disastrous set. Becky Tutka (9.775), Hughes (9.825) and Wilson (9.85) got the Utes off to a good start before trouble struck. Kassandra Lopez (9.35) and Dabritz (9.675) struggled mightily to stay on the beam—Lopez touched her hand on the beam and ran out of her dismount for a 9.350— and Dabritz needed a big balance check to stay on board for a 9.675. After three rotations, Utah led by just .175 (147.775-147.600).
Lucky for Utah, while Stanford was tearing up the beam with a 49.475, Del Priore kept Utah in front with her 10.0 on floor.
The Utes improve to 7-1-1 and 4-1-1 in the Pac-12. Stanford drops to 8-3 and 3-2 in the Pac-12.