Utah gymnastics face UCLA in the biggest meet of the season

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah's Sydney Soloski on the floor at the Best of Utah NCAA Gymnastics Meet in West Valley City on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020.

In recent seasons the philosophy of Utah’s gymnastics team has been to do your best and be satisfied with the results, knowing you tried your best. That outlook doesn’t sit very well in Tom Farden’s world. Farden, in his first year of solo coaching the Utes, understands the goal is to do your best, but is pushing the Utes for more and emphasizing that the outcome matters, a lot.

“Winning always matters,” he said. “You never take winning an event for granted. When you are on the same floor with a team and going head to head, who wins floor matters, who wins bars matters. All that stuff matters to me. I want to know when you have the same judges on the same floor, how you stack up against the other team. I am tickled pink we are undefeated, it’s a by-product of confidence.”

So here it comes then, the meet that matters the most in the regular season. Utah (8-0, 4-0) vs. UCLA (8-2, 3-1), with the teams tied for third in the nation averaging 197.01.

The meet will be televised by ESPN2 and will be followed closely by recruits, many of whom often have Utah and UCLA in their final choices.

It doesn’t really get any bigger for this young Utah team trying to prove it can compete with the elite.

“We have intentions of going in there and executing,” Farden said. “We want to hit 24-for-24 and see where it takes us. But we would be remiss to acknowledge what is on the line. We want to match up with the top programs in the country so we are excited to go in there and compete.”

The Utes are off to an 8-0 start for the first time since 2015, when they won the Pac-12 and finished second in the nation to Florida by just 0.05.

Utah would love to preserve that unblemished record, but they know winning at UCLA is never easy. The Utes have won just twice at Pauley Pavilion since 2008, with the most recent victory coming in 2018.

Moreover, the Utes enter the meet after one of their more disappointing efforts, a 197.1-196.275 win over Oregon State where they suffered two falls on the floor.

They know that kind of effort won’t beat the Bruins.

“When we hit 24-for-24, we are a dangerous team,” Sydney Soloski said. “Our goal is to show that.”

The Utes’ struggles on floor set up an interesting matchup because they are ranked just 12th with a 49.225 average while the Bruins are No. 1 averaging 49.536.

Things are different on beam, where the Utes are ranked No. 4 with a 49.388 average while the Bruins are ranked only 22nd averaging 48.882.

Since the Bruins will be finishing on floor and the Utes on beam, Sunday’s matchup seems set up for some drama.

The Utes might prefer to go into the meet with a big win behind them, but Farden likes the current situation too, wanting to see how his team responds to the disappointing effort against Oregon State.

“UCLA is a talented team with great athletes,” he said. “We know we have to go in ready for a big meet.”


At Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles

When • Sunday, 4 p.m. MST


Records • Utah (8-0, 4-0); UCLA (8-2, 3-1)

Series • Utah leads the series 54-36-1

Last meeting • UCLA won, 198.025-197.625

Of note • UCLA won all three meetings with the Utes in 2019... Of Utah’s 144 routines, the underclassmen have competed 76… UCLA returns all but three routines from last season’s team that finished third in the NCAA Championships… This is the fourth straight season in which both teams were ranked in the top five when they met. The Utes won the first two of those meetings and UCLA the last one… The Bruins’ losses were to Oklahoma and Washington…UCLA’s Kyla Ross is ranked No. 1 on the bars and second in the all-around.