Who rocks the house?
The Utes rock the house
And when the Utes rock the house
They rock it all the way down!
COMMENTARY — It is truly a wonderful time to be a Ute fan! This week’s gee whiz fact is “5” — the number of nationally-ranked teams on The Hill this year. That’s right, Utah’s football, men’s basketball, women’s gymnastics, women’s volleyball and ski teams are all nationally-ranked. Let’s quickly go around the horn and touch on all of them in order of rankings.
SKIING: The Utah ski team recently opened the season ranked No. 2 in the United States Collegiate Coaches Association SYNC Poll. Over the years, the ski team has won 11 national team titles, with 69 individual national champions (with both numbers ranking third all-time in NCAA history).
GYMNASTICS: The opening verse above is the team chant that Utah gymnasts do on the floor each meet. This isn’t just a cute rhyme either, the Red Rocks are truly rocking the house lately! These talented ladies are currently ranked No. 4 nationally. After bringing home Utah’s first Pac-12 championship last season, the Red Rocks are poised to repeat as conference champions and compete for yet another national title (10 so far, and eight times as runner-up).
The Red Rocks’ latest triumph was a dominant win in a quad meet last Friday that involved Utah, Southern Utah, Boise State and UC Davis. The highlight of the night was a dazzling floor routine by Georgia Dabritz that brought the crowd to its feet, receiving a perfect 10.0 from one judge and 9.95 composite score. I love the way that many of the Red Rocks incorporate flashing a “U” with their hands as part of their actual floor routine.
Of course, Greg Marsden is the prototypical coach who is never satisfied and is always looking to improve. “Similar to last week, we did some things very well, but we can be better on every event. I expect to be better on every event. They should expect to be better on every event. We will do better on every event,” he said after the big win. I have no doubt they will.
BASKETBALL: After a blow-out loss to Arizona last Saturday, the Runnin’ Utes dropped in the rankings but are still sitting at number No. 12 in the coaches poll. The most disappointing aspect of the recent loss was how they lost. For the first time all season long, Utah failed to compete in the second half and were not even close when the final buzzer sounded.
In both of the Runnin’ Utes other losses, a four-point loss at San Diego State, and a three-point loss at Kansas (notwithstanding double-digit deficits in both games) Utah still had a chance to win in the final moments. Not so in the desert last Saturday. After leading the game for the first 15 minutes, at times convincingly, the Runnin’ Utes were simply outplayed in all aspects of the game the second half. One of the more telling stats was the fact that Arizona out-rebounded Utah 40-19.
“It was a good old fashioned beat down,” head coach Larry Krystkowiak said. “First and foremost is the level of physicality in that game. The reality is that a lot of it is a mindset for us to he tougher and play harder. We can’t be reactors in today’s game, we have to be the actors.”
I’m definitely not playing the role of Chicken Little claiming that the sky is about to fall after one bad conference loss. The simple truth is that, similar to football, nobody expected the Runnin’ Utes to be this good this year, but they are. And there is still a lot of basketball left to play before the big dance in March. I fully expect the rematch between Utah and Arizona on The Hill on Feb. 28 to be a very different game than the one last week.
VOLLEYBALL: The Utah women’s volleyball team concluded its season ranked No. 18 in the nation. “It was an amazing year [for us] and that is reflected in our No. 18 final ranking,” said Utah head coach Beth Launiere. “Winning 7 out of 8 matches and six of those wins coming against ranked opponents to end the season in the Pac-12 was a lot of fun.”
FOOTBALL: The final football rankings came out today. With an overall record of 9-4, capped by a walk-off win in the Las Vegas Bowl, the gridiron squad ended up ranked No. 21 nationally. With all of the recent turmoil on the coaching staff, including the departures of both the defensive and offensive coordinators, some stability was brought back to the program last week as head coach Kyle Whittingham had his contract extended through 2018.
Athletic Director Chris Hill noted, “We are excited to come to terms on a contract extension for Coach Whitt and under his leadership, we’re looking forward to a successful football season next fall and in the years to come.” Coach Whittingham is ready to get back to the job at hand. “We appreciate the confidence and commitment the University of Utah has shown our program. We have a talented team returning for the 2015 season and we’re excited about the future of Utah football,” said Whittingham. “The number one priority right now is finishing up another outstanding recruiting class.”
I would hope another top priority would be naming new defensive and offensive coordinators. Regardless of Whittingham’s attempts to put a positive spin on recruiting, it has got to be challenging to commit new recruits when the young players do not even know who the coordinator will be on their side of the ball. The return of star running back Devontae Booker for his senior year is certainly a positive sign and provides some much-needed continuity heading into next season.
Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes can get back on track this week with home games against the Washington schools, while the rest of Utah’s teams continue to give fans more than just football and basketball to cheer about.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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