Utah gymnastics team figures to get a real challenge from Cal in Berkeley

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sydney Soloski on the floor as the University of Utah hosts Arizona State, NCAA gymnastics in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.

Utah’s gymnastics team has gone from a team that was so young no one was really sure what to expect from it this season to one with the proverbial target on its back.

Now comes Utah’s biggest challenge yet, competing against its highest ranked opponent to date and doing so on the road.

The third-ranked Utes take on No. 12 California Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Utah has joined the nation’s elite in the rankings thanks to the 197-plus scores it has enjoyed the last three weeks. It’s likely it will need a similar effort against the Bears who have scored 197-plus in two out of their three meets.

Even though the Utes beat Arizona by a comfortable 197.3-195.975 margin a week ago, Utah coach Tom Farden noted it was a close meet until the Utes pulled away at the end.

The Utes felt pushed, which isn’t a bad thing considering Cal should give the Utes even more pressure moments. The last time the Utes visited Berkeley the Bears took a 197.5-197.45 win. They are even more dangerous this year, Farden said.

“They are animproved team and it could be a battle from the moment they raise the flag and the first competitor goes,” Farden said. “We know we have our work cut out for us.”

Farden, in his first year of complete control over the Utah program, has increased the amount of pressure situations in the preseason and practice. In the past he has made several lineup changes to keep the gymnasts familiar with unfamiliarity. However, there is no substitute for real pressure situations like the ones that await the Utes on the road this year. In addition to Saturday’s meet, the Utes also compete against No. 5 UCLA and No. 11 Washington.

Such tests are ideal for getting the team ready for the post-season, junior Sydney Soloski said.

“We have a tough group of freshmen,” she said. “But being on the road when you aren’t in front of 15,000 of your fans is hard. You have to handle your adrenalin and know when to get hyped up.”

The Utes were a decent road team in 2019, winning at Oregon State and finishing second behind LSU in a quad meet in St. Charles, Mo. But they did fold in some key meets too, losing at UCLA and at Georgia.

This year the Utes hope they can use those past experiences, plus their new practice regimen to continue to become an all-around good team.

“That is a great challenge of college gymnastics,” freshman Maile O’Keefe said. “The Huntsman Center has a lot of energy but it’s fun to get out of town too and compete in a different arena to see how you can do.”


At Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MST

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Records: Utah 6-0. 2-0; California 6-4, 1-2

Series: Utah leads 25-2

Last meeting: Utah won 197.5-197.45, Feb. 9, 2019

Of note: California’s season high was a 197.325 scored at home against Stanford…Cal sophomore Milan Clausi is the daughter of former Utah All-American and NCAA champion Missy Marlowe…The Utes have hit 92-of-96 routines this season…Utah senior Missy Reinstadtler competed in the floor exercise against Arizona and is pushing for a spot in the all-around…Freshman Abby Paulson has moved into the anchor spot on beam.