Utah Utes Gymnasts In It to Win It

Lia Del Priore and the Red Rocks compete in the NCAA Championships this weekend - USA TODAY Sports

Utah's Red Rocks changed their approach to this season, and that has made all the difference. This year, and this weekend at the NCAA Championship Meet, the Utes are in it to win it.

It’s been almost 20 years since Utah gymnastics last won a National Championship, but if the Regionals and Pac-12 Championship meets in the past month have been any preview of what’s to come, 2014 might just prove to be the year the Red Rocks break their national title dry spell. As the no. 5-ranked Utes prepare to head to Birmingham, Ala. this weekend to compete in the National Championship, the team is feeling confident their hard work this season—and the cumulative knowledge of its experienced seniors—will pay off.

"We really just tried to change the demeanor of the team [this season]," said co-captain and senior Corrie Lorthrop. "We’ve really focused on being mentally prepared... and I think that’s really helped us this year."

Added fellow co-captain Hailee Hansen, "Last year we just didn’t finish our best… and we set some common goals this year [to change that]."

Compared to last season’s disappointing finish, this year’s Red Rocks believe they have all the right pieces to the puzzle. Although the Utes are the only team in college sports to ever qualify for every national championship, the 2013 season proved disappointing for the Red Rocks when they failed to advance to the Super Six. This season—regardless of this weekend’s outcome—has already proven to be a wildly different story.

The no. 5 Utes are averaging 197.271 a meet this season, compared to their 2013 average of 196. 809. Additionally, this year the team captured their first Pac-12 title, as well as the University of Utah’s first championship since joining the conference in 2011.

An impressive combination of talent, passion, and chemistry propelled the Red Rocks to success during the season, and will drive them at the National Championship this weekend.

"Last year, we focused on doing our best, but that’s not necessarily the same as winning," said Hansen. "This year, we’re here to win and dominate our events as individuals and as a team."

Shifting the focusing on winning has worked for the Utes so far, and this weekend will be no exception. The team, who currently has a school-record nine All-Americans on their 13-member roster, has posted 10 9.975 scores or better this season, including three perfect 10s.

In addition to the dynamic team chemistry that has propelled the Utes to push each other and excel, individual contributions have made a huge impact for the team as well. Four gymnasts (Georgia Dabritz, Kailah Delaney, Nansy Damianova, and Tory Wilson) have won six or more individual events. Dabritz, along with Becky Tutka and Lia Del Priore have hit every routine without a fall.

The key for success this weekend for the Utes, apart from hitting each routine, is maintaining the in-it-to-win-it mentality co-captains Lorthrop and Hansen worked on developing throughout their team practices.

"The biggest thing for us is the mental side of [this weekend]," said Lorthrop. "All the teams that will be there are physically prepared. Every team is ready for this. But, at the end of the day, it’s going to be the team who can handle the pressure."

Although the team is focused on winning this weekend, they’re also celebrating in the moment.

"I can’t wait to enjoy this moment with my class… and the people that I’m with," said Lorthrop.

Added Hansen, "It’s such a high energy event, it’s so much fun. I can’t wait to be with everyone and share this last experience with them."

The NCAA women’s gymnastics championship begins Friday, April 18 in Birmingham, Ala., at the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex. Utah will compete in the evening semifinal group, which begins at 6 p.m. MST. The top three teams from the afternoon and evening sessions will then advance to the Super Six, which will begin at 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 19. Individual finals will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 20.

While the semifinal sessions on Friday will not be broadcast on television, they can be streamed live on www.ncaa.com. The finals on both Saturday and Sunday will be broadcast live online on ESPN3. You can also follow BlockU and Utah Gymnastics on Twitter for live updates.

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