It’ll be UCLA vs. Utah in Saturday’s Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships at the Maverik Center
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) MaKenna Merrell-Giles scored a 9.95 on her floor routine. The fourth-ranked Utes compete against No. 9 California, No. 16 Auburn, No. 21 Brigham Young, Stanford and Southern Utah, during the the NCAA Regional Championships, Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the Huntsman Center. The top two teams advance to the NCAA Championships April 20-21 in St. Louis.
Saturday, April 7, 2018,
Asked this week about the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships, Utah junior MyKayla Skinner cracked a smile and said, “finally, we’ve been waiting for this for so long now.”
That about sums up the mentality of Utah’s gymnastics team as it competes in the Pac-12 Championships at West Valley City’s Maverik Center on Saturday.
The Utes used the regular season as prep for the postseason, tweaking their lineups and facing pressure situations in practice and competition to be as mentally prepared as they are physically.
“We have been building and building throughout the season,” senior Kari Lee said. “Now it is a matter of getting the little details down like sticks and what not.”
The lower seeds of Washington, Arizona State, Stanford and Arizona compete at 1 p.m. and the top seeds of UCLA, Utah, Oregon State and California compete at 6 p.m.
However, the Utes like their chances since that was a close loss of 198.025-197.625 and the Utes seemed to have figured out their issues on the balance beam
History is on their side too, Lee pointed out.
“The Pac-12s, we always seem to bring it a little more,” she said.
At the Maverik Center
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Teams with rankings and regional qualifying score averages:
Session 1 teams — No. 18 Washington (196.505); No. 21 Arizona State (196.18); No. 26 Stanford (195.905); No. 30 Arizona (195.7)
Session 2 teams — No. 2 UCLA (197.885); No. 6 Utah (197.375); No. 14 Oregon State (196.575); No. 16 California (196.54)
The Utes won the title in 2014, 2015 and 2017, and finished in the top three the other years, giving the program the distinction of being the only one in the league to do so. The Bruins won in 2012 and 2016 in addition to last year.
While the league is strong, Utah and UCLA clearly are a notch above the others and are the favorites.
“It will definitely be hard to come out on top but not impossible,” senior MaKenna Merrell-Giles said. “We are [peaking] at the right time.”
Having the meet in the Maverik Center on the raised podium equipment marks a new turn for the conference as it enters a three-year agreement with the arena.
“I love that we are going to have the championship feeling because of the podium,” Utah coach Megan Marsden said. “Having that happen is critical. I know our fans, too, and we are going to have a full house of fans who will appreciate all the great performances.”
The Utes hope to have the most, of course. Utah spent the regular season treating its meets as prep for the championship run. The last puzzle was figuring out the issues on balance beam, which seemed to be resolved by moving Lee to the leadoff spot and having the inexperienced gymnasts gain some confidence.
Utah is coming off its best beam effort, a 49.425, in the last regular season meet at Georgia. The Utes lost, but feel encouraged given the beam score and that their missteps came in usually strong areas.
“It’s a bummer we lost at Georgia
but we did a lot go good things,” Merrell-Giles said. “We finished on beam which an be the most nerve-wracking event and their crowd was big and they were on floor and we held our nerves.”
The Utes lost the Georgia meet because they had subpar performances on their best events, floor and vault. They believe if they can hit their average on those events, they have a good shot at the title.
“We have some athletes who would very much like to win a Pac-12 title again and they haven’t forgotten they were beaten by UCLA,” Marsden said. “Our goal is to stay focused and have each athlete perform as well as we can. UCLA is an incredible team and it shows but we are prepared too and we are ready for an event like this.”
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIPS AT A GLANCE
Winner can come from either session; RQS is regional qualifying score.
6 P.M. SESSION
National rank: No. 2
Season high: 198.315
Of note: Kyla Ross tied Utah’s MyKayla Skinner for the all-around title last year; defending champion
National rank: No. 6
Season high: 197.975
Of note: MaKenna Merrell-Giles is the defending vault champion and MyKayla Skinner won the all-around and floor last year; Adrienne Randall, who didn’t compete on the floor at Georgia due to a wrist injury, could compete Saturday
National rank: No. 14
Season high: 197.45
Of note: Best event is floor where it ranks 10th (49.33), and doesn’t use any all-around competitors. Tanya Chaplin is in her 22nd year of coaching
National rank: No. 16
Season high: 197.575
Of note: Freshman Milan Clausi is the daughter of Utah great Missy Marlowe; Kyana George is the top all-around competitor (39.275)
1 P.M. SESSION
National rank: No. 18
Season high: 196.975
Of note: Top all-around competitor is Evanni Roberson with a season high of 39.5; coached by former Michigan gymnast Elise Ray-Statz, who is in her third season
National rank: No. 21
Season high: 196.625
Of note: Top all-around is Cairo Leonard-Baker (39.55); Sun Devils scored 196.55 in their last meet
National rank: No. 26
Season high: 196.525
Of note: Best event is floor where it is ranked 17th (49.24); Kyla Bryant top all-around (39.475)
National rank: No. 30
Season high: 196.45
Of note: Has never beaten Utah, trailing series 63-0; Maddi Leydin is top all-around with 39.35