Utah gymnastics was on the cusp of something special last season. The same cast is back for 2021.
‘I feel like this is a finals group,’ says coach Tom Farden. ‘The type of team that is going to be competitive in the upper echelon of the Pac-12.’
(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sydney Soloski on the floor as the University of Utah hosts Arizona State, NCAA gymnastics in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.
Utah’s gymnastics team was an unknown going into 2020 with a new coaching staff and the need to fill 14 routines from that performed in the 2019 NCAA Championships.
This year the fourth-ranked Utes feel like they know who they are as far as talent goes. The question is whether the team can find the magic and chemistry that seemed to have the Utes on the precipice of something big before the season was abruptly called in March due to the COVID-19 breakout.
The end, which came just before the Utes were to compete in the Pac-12 Championships, left the team gutted at the thought of what might have been.
BEST OF UTAH MEET
At the Maverik Center
Teams: Utah, BYU, Utah State, Southern Utah
When • Saturday, 7 p.m.
As senior Sydney Soloski describes it, there was a general feeling of “what do we do now.”
It didn’t take too long for the Utes to figure that out as they set their focus to 2021, a season in which they are carrying the theme of unfinished business.
“We are going in with the mentality of giving everything we have,” Soloski said. “At the end of the day, we don’t want the regret that we would feel of not doing everything possible.”
The Utes begin their season Saturday in the Best of Utah meet at 7 p.m. at the Maverik Center against Utah State, Southern Utah and Brigham Young.
On paper, the Utes seem worthy of their No. 4 ranking. They return the majority of the team that went 11-0 last year and was awarded the Pac-12 regular season title.
Seniors Alexia Burch and Soloski along with juniors Cristal Isa and Adrienne Randall lead the team. But others, such as sophomore Maile O’Keefe, Jillian Hoffman, Abby Paulson and Jaedyn Rucker, will play large roles for the Utes.
(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gymnastics coach Tom Farden reacts after the bars routine as the University of Utah fifth-ranked gymnastics team hosts No. 12 University of Kentucky during its home opener, Jan. 3, 2020, at the Huntsman Center.
Freshmen Jaylene Gilstrap, Alani Sabado and Lucy Stanhope will also make impacts, too.
“They are a talented, hard-working group,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “I feel like this is a finals group. The type of team that is going to be competitive in the upper echelon of the Pac-12.”
At that level, the difference between teams more often is decided by the intangibles, the ability to compete extremely well under pressure and have the kind of team chemistry to inspire one another when things might be on the verge of falling apart.
The 2020 team undoubtably had that.
“It seemed like we were prepping for something special toward the end,” Farden said. “Our coaches felt it, too. Kim Tessen was having a breakout year and Missy Reinstadtler was healthy and was brilliant and we had a lot of young athletes stepping up.”
The Utes believe they can regain that kind of combination of chemistry and talent this year. However, one of the challenges is they couldn’t participate in a lot of the team building camps and retreats that Farden uses to build the team bond.
“We’ve had to have a different approach this year,” Farden said. “We’ve done the best we can with all the distancing to find new ways to keep them close and on the same page. We will see how we’ve done.”