It's a bit of a construction site around the Jon M. Huntsman Center these days, as the new University of Utah's new basketball facility takes shape, but it's not the only building taking place in the area. Just west of all the heavy machinery and hard hats are some of Utah's hardest working women, the Ute's gymnastics team, who just got back into the gym for a summer full of school, training, and conditioning in preparation for the upcoming 2014-2015 season.
It's been an interesting off-season thus far for the Red Rocks. The last memories the team and their loyal fans have is of the devastating performance at the NCAA National Championships, where the talent-packed team faltered on the beam and failed to make the it to the Super Six final round of competition and a chance for their 11th national title. It was a stunning blow for the Utes, whose storied program has won a record 10 national championships and claimed their first-ever Pac-12 Championship this season.
The team, who made their record-setting 39th-straight appearance at the national championships this season, was on a seemingly unstoppable run up until their bitter loss at the national championship meet. They achieved this historic feat of winning their first league title in stunning fashion. The Utes won by a score of 197.925 to 197.175 to beat second-place Stanford. Greg and Megan Marsden shared the league's Coach of the Year award. Tory Wilson claimed Gymnast of the Year, and Georgia Dabritz was named Specialist of the Year. The Utes then went to take first at the NCAA Regional Championships. So when they were less than a tenth of point short of advancing to the Super Six finals at the national championships, the shock rocked the team and fans of the Red Rocks all over the country.
But the Utes are bouncing back in a way only an elite program could. They took the first few weeks off for finals week, then spent time at home and with their families, and took mental break from such a difficult loss.
"That break came at a good time," said senior Corrie Lothrop, one of last year's team captains and co-winner of the Diane Ellingson Most Inspirational Award along with teammate Hailee Hansen.
Now they are back in gym, ready to welcome their four new freshman and many of the top performers from last season. The Utes train at 100 percent August through April, so the summertime is an opportunity for the ladies to work both mentally and physically. They take classes, work on their physical conditioning, and work with a sport psychologist to help them manage the pressure and rigors of being collegiate gymnasts. Practices are optional in summer for the women, but most choose to attend and use the time to work on new skills and team chemistry without the shadow of an eminent competition staring them down. For Lothrop, who calls herself a "super senior," because she will be competing for her fifth year with the Utes after battling injuries in her career, is hoping to compete in all four events - balance beam, uneven bars, vault, and floor. With the depth the team had last year, Lothrop played it safe and competed on events that weren't as hard on her legs, but this year will require her, and the rest of the team, including all of the incoming freshman (Kari Lee, Maddy Stover, Tiffany Lewis, and Samantha Partyka) to do their part. While their goal is to perform at the optimal level in each meet, of course, their biggest goal will be to make it back to the last round of competition at nationals.
"We want to get back to the Super Six," Lothrop said. "It's like, ‘What are we doing wrong?'"
"We want to get back to the Super Six. It's like, ‘What are we doing wrong?'" - Corrie Lothrop
Head coach Greg Marsden is more focused on the process, says Lothrop. So rather than looking at the end of the season before it's even begun, he chooses to focus on each goal and meet as it comes. But Lothrop admits that winning is something that stays on her mind and the minds of all of the gymnasts.
"On all of our minds, we want to win," she said. "So many great teams have gone through the program and have not won yet. We know we can do so much better."
Getting the freshman adjusted will be a very important task this summer and throughout the year. With them making up a third of the team, the Utes are focused on making their transition a smooth one. Lothrop calls herself the "wise grandma" of the team and hopes to once again be named captain and help lead the younger gymnasts to another strong season.
Another important facet to next year's success is to be sure that the team continues to manage pressure well. Lothrop admits that much of the pressure the team feels is what they put on themselves. Greg Marsden was at one time working on a doctoral degree in sports psychology and spending time working on the mental aspects of his team's training is very important to him. The Utes have a sports psychologist that works with the team and helps them to manage both the internal pressure and the high expectations that come when a team has had as much success and dominance as the Utes. Lothrop says that the team doesn't feel as much pressure from the outside, but the desire to win a national championship is one that never disappears. She feels a lot of it comes from the winning ways of all of the headlining teams that have come before this year's Utes.
"We want to keep the legacy and the tradition going," she said. "A lot of pressure comes from past teams too."