Utah’s gymnastics team seems to have had some bad luck all the way around in its placement for the NCAA Championships as not only are the Utes in the most difficult session, but they are stuck with a rotation that has them starting on the floor.
But the Utes are more positive about their fate than things might seem on paper, particularly when it comes to their rotation for Friday’s competition at the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth.
The Utes will start on floor, the same rotation they had at the NCAA regionals the second night, when they scored a 197.25 and nearly knocked off host LSU.
It’s common for teams to struggle when they open on floor, particularly if they are one of the power teams such as the Utes that do well with the adrenalin-driven events.
But Utah did a solid job of starting strong the second night of the regionals and scored a 49.375 to open on floor, their second-highest score other than vault (49.425).
Just as importantly, the Utes finished well on the balance beam, scoring 49.375, as they showed no nerves being under pressure.
Utah coach Megan Marsden hopes her team can produce a similar effort at the NCAA Championships when the Utes take on UCLA, Michigan and LSU.
The top two teams advance to the finals on Saturday.
“The good news is we have practiced this rotation,” Marsden said. “At regionals the place was filled with LSU fans and we did better with the shotgun start. The girls didn’t have a problem with it at regionals and we will be prepared for it.”
NCAA GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Friday-Saturday at the Fort Worth (Texas) Convention Center
All times Mountain
(National qualifying scores included)
Session 1 (ESPN2), 1 p.m. • No. 2 UCLA (396.085), No. 3 LSU (395.31), No. 5 Utah (394.785), No. 6 Michigan (394.595)
Session 2 (ESPNU) 5 p.m. • No. 1 Oklahoma (396.59), No. 4 Denver (394.92), No. 7 Georgia (395.365), No. 8 Oregon State (393.525)
Top two teams from each session advance to Saturday’s finals, 5 p.m., ESPNU
Marsden questions more how the lack of byes will affect teams. The byes were known as the X-factor in the championships because they could either squash momentum or give teams a chance to regroup if needed.
Now that they are eliminated since there are just four teams competing, Marsden wonders how teams will compete without the breaks.
She liked the flow her team had at regionals without the byes. The worst were the times the Utes had to end on a bye and couldn’t be on the floor in the final rotation, when it seemed it was so important to be out there.
“We haven’t experienced how this new format is going to affect things, but being in the Super Six and being in the locker room sometimes, that was a real bummer,” she said.
The Utes are confident in starting on floor too because of their lineup. Their floor lineup starts with two seasoned veterans, Macey Roberts then Kari Lee, seniors accustomed to pressure and who know the importance of a strong start.
“Macey takes great pride in that role,” Marsden said. “She works hard to nail that set and her first floor pass has a lot of difficulty so it is a great start for us.”
The Utes end their floor rotation with their one-two punch of MaKenna Merrell-Giles and MyKayla Skinner. They know their routines could be the propellant that drives the Utes for the rest of the meet, especially since there aren’t any byes.
Skinner said she is ready for that challenge.
“I didn’t mind the byes, because you could just go chill in the room and go attack it again, but I do feel like it makes gymnastics more fun when the teams are all competing at once neck and neck,” she said. “It can bring out the best in everybody and having eight teams with four in the finals only makes it harder. It’s going to come down to who is ready to play.”
UCLA - Vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor
Michigan - uneven bars, balance beam, floor, vault
LSU - Balance beam, floor, vault, uneven bars
Utah - Floor, vault, uneven bars, balance beam
Oklahoma - Vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor
Georgia - Uneven bars, balance beam, floor, vault
Denver - Balance beam, floor, vault, uneven bars
Oregon State - Floor, vault, uneven bars, balance beam