Utes gymnasts ready to defend Pac-12 title

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maddy Stover on beam as Utah hosts Washington, NCAA gymnastics in Salt Lake City, Saturday February 3, 2018.

Members of Utah’s gymnastics team normally are a low-key bunch, but the Utes are rather possessive when it comes to the Pac-12 Championship.

The Utes feel a certain ownership of the trophy after winning three of the last four titles.

“We’d like to have it stay in Salt Lake,” senior Maddy Stover said.

The Utes make their bid to keep the conference title when the championships are held Saturday in Tucson.

The fourth-ranked Utes are the second seed behind No. 3 UCLA, but Utah likes its chances of winning since the Utes split with the Bruins in the regular season and closed out their schedule with a season-high 198.15 to beat Georgia.

“We are in the best position possible to succeed,” junior MaKenna Merrell-Giles said. “We are on a high right now, and we want to keep that rolling.”

However, the Utes’ confidence isn’t soaring to the point where they are cocky. Utah was upset by Cal only a few weeks ago, and the 10th-ranked Bears and No. 8 Washington also are in the evening session, which begins at 7 and will be televised by the Pac-12 Networks. Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State and Stanford compete in the afternoon session at 2.

“We know we can’t let our guard down,” senior Tiffani Lewis said. “We know that staying at the top is the hardest part.”

Both Lewis and Stover said the Utes need the mindset that the championships are just another meet for them. However, the Utes acknowledge they know this is anything but a routine competition. After all, winning the conference championship not only would give them bragging rights but also a boost toward their goal of contending for the national title.

The Utes finished a disappointing fifth last year at the NCAAs and have used that as a major part of their motivation in 2018.

Junior Kari Lee said she has noticed a difference in her teammates now that the postseason is here.

“We are so ready,” she said. “There is something different about this team. We have this edge, and I know we aren’t quite done yet. A lot came together for us against Georgia. We hit 24 for 24 and got the big scores, so I know we are ready.”

The Utes likely will need a repeat performance of their effort against Georgia to defend the title. The Bruins, like Utah, finished the regular season with some of their best performances, scoring above 198 in two of the last four meets, including a 198.275 in the regular-season finale.

Cal and Washington also have improved and can’t be discounted if the Utes or Bruins don’t hit.

“Everyone brings it to this meet, that is what is so cool,” Lee said. “You never want to underestimate a team because anything can happen.”

Utah coach Megan Marsden, like her gymnasts, said she likes where the team is going into the championships, not only physically but mentally.

“They’ve put in a lot of hard work and we have several people stepping up, and that is exciting,” she said. “There is a lot of confidence in this team. They’ve been waiting since nationals last year to get ready for the postseason, and here it is. I’m excited to see what they can do.”

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIPS <br>Where • Tucson, Ariz. <br>When • 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday <br>TV • Pac-12 Networks <br>Radio • ESPN 700 <br>Session 1 • Oregon State (196.765), Arizona State, Stanford, Arizona <br>Session 2 • UCLA (197.84), Utah (197.54), Washington (196.915), California (196.775). (Regional qualifying score in parentheses) <br>Of note • Utah won the Pac-12 title in 2014, 2015 and 2017. UCLA won in 2012 and 2016, while Oregon State won in 2013. … Utah has had a Pac-12 all-around champion in four of the five championships. MyKayla Skinner won in 2017. … Skinner is the defending champion on floor and vault. She shared the vault title with teammate Tiffani Lewis. … Utah is the only team to finish in the top three at all six Pac-12 Championships.


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