Intimidation won’t be in the cards.
It won’t even be in the deck. Not this weekend.
Because they’ve admitted that, yes, there is something extra to the atmosphere, that the NCAA Gymnastics Championships do cause athletes to take an extra breath or two to let it all sink in. But the No. 5-ranked Utah gymnastics team is prepped for it. All championship contenders, the year-in, year-out programs, are.
The Red Rocks don’t even shudder at the idea of a capacity crowd with the stakes as high as can be. They see it and feel it every night they step onto their home floor. Utah gymnastics led all women’s sports for an eighth year in regular-season home attendance in 2018, averaging 15,139 fans at the Huntsman Center.
“I think it helps us prepare,” sophomore Missy Reinstadtler said. “Obviously you’re going to hear the crowd, and a noisy crowd can definitely affect you if you’re not used to it, so I think having that just being part of our usual meets here in the Huntsman, it definitely helps us.”
In collegiate gymnastics, it’s hard to replicate the ambience of the Huntsman at capacity. The Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University will be jam-packed this weekend with fans from all over the country. An NCAA champion will be crowned in the Gateway City for the second straight year. The Red Rocks will compete in the second semifinal Friday at 5 p.m., alongside No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Florida, No. 8 Kentucky, No. 9 Cal and No. 11 Washington.
The top three teams from each semifinal group advance to Saturday’s Super Six final.
“We compete in front of 15,000 fans,” sophomore all-American MyKayla Skinner said, “so I think we can handle the pressure pretty good.”
It would be icing on the cake if Reinstadtler sticks what Utah co-coach Megan Marsden describes as a high-difficulty vault routine Friday night. The sophomore will be the first Utah gymnast to compete at nationals in St. Louis.
“I think the girls know Missy will start out with a big vault,” Marsden said, “and if it’s stuck, we’ll get extra excited. And if not, we’ll go business as usual.”
Reinstadtler hopes to set the tone by being the first one out of the gates.
“You definitely have a little more adrenaline at the very beginning of the meet,” she said. “I just try to go out, set the stage and hit my vault best as I can and hopefully everything will fall into place.”
Odds and ends
The most important meet of the season also precedes the most important week of the year for student-athletes. Utah’s spring final exams begin next Tuesday, meaning the Red Rocks will need to start studying — even in St. Louis. Marsden said there will be a timeframe carved out for the team to hit the books this week as it prepares for nationals. As for seeing the sights, Marsden said the team is scheduled to visit the famed St. Louis Arch at some point this week.
When • Friday and Saturday
Where • Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis
Utes in action • The Red Rocks compete in Friday’s 5 p.m. semifinal