SALT LAKE CITY — It's their only home meet of the month, and the Ute gymnasts plan to make the most of it, said co-coach Greg Marsden.
The fourth-ranked Utes (4-1) need to keep their ranking high — it's based on meet scores — to give themselves a favorable field when they host an NCAA Regional meet in April, so Marsden does not plan many lineup changes tonight when 50th-ranked Utah State (1-7) visits the Huntsman Center at 7.
The Aggies have dealt with several injuries — some of those athletes are expected to return tonight — and they are the lowest-ranked opponent on the Utes' 2010 schedule.
Utah State's season-high was a 191.225 on Jan. 22 in a loss at Southern Utah. The Aggies scored a 190.475, finishing third in a tri-meet at BYU last Friday, when they had only six healthy gymnasts. They expect to get three of them back for the Utah meet — Jackie Dixon, Rebecca Holliday and Brandie Dickson. Top all-arounder Lyndsie Boone (38.85) and Chelsea Marquardt each had knee injuries at BYU and are questionable.
In the past, Utah might have been able to rest an athlete or use one or two that hadn't competed much in a situation like this, but the Utes have not truly hit their stride yet, so few punches will be pulled.
"I don't think so. That's not the plan," said Marsden. "You've got to stay mentally focused and come in with the intent to accomplish something."
After learning two meets ago at Washington (a win, but a 195.85 score) that they would need to emphasize their internal drive, they did a much better job last Friday in winning at Arizona State, scoring a 196.475 — their second-best of the season.
"Last week we felt like we took a big step forward, like we created that for ourselves," Marsden said.
But that was just one time, and now they're at home, where the large crowd can provide artificial stimulus, but the Utes need to keep their own fires burning, too.
"We've talked about not being affected too much by the opponent or what the crowd's going to be like. We've got to get better each week and try to create our own energy," Marsden said.
Also, they have execution issues to improve. They've learned, through inquiries to judges, that some of their leaps need attention — from proper leg splits to head position.
"Anybody that's doing ring leaps, which means they lay their head back on beam or on floor," said co-coach Megan Marsden, "they have to have full head release — they basically have to have their nostrils facing the ceiling, not just tip their head back. You have to have your foot at head height, and then you have to fully release your head."
Sophomore Stephanie McAllister changed one leap because of something learned about judging at ASU.
With junior Gael Mackie likely out a month after a Level 3 (worst) ankle sprain and avulsion fracture in practice Tuesday, McAllister's place in vault is more certain now. Jacq Johnson and Kyndal Robarts are vying for bars spots, and freshman Katelyn Mohr and senior Beth Rizzo want floor time.
Senior Daria Bijak will take another step and vault third instead of second. She's been reluctant to go anywhere but first because she gets cold, but to score better with her unique vault, it's better for her to go later in the lineup. She told the coaches she was ready to do so last week. She went second then. Greg Marsden would eventually like to get her to fourth.
USU has rematch with Southern Utah in Logan on Monday. Utah returns to the road next Friday at Michigan.
Utah State at Utah
Friday, 7 p.m.