Utah’s third-ranked gymnastics team is taking some big expectations into their Sunday meet at Oklahoma. But the big gymnastics? Some of those skills will be staying at home.
The Utes, who take on the Sooners Sunday at 3 p.m. in a meet televised by ESPN2, are dialing back some of their big routines at least for the near future as they focus on being consistent rather than risky.
It is a slight change in philosophy from recent years when the Utes often pushed adding some big tricks to help them stand out among the nation’s top teams. However coach Tom Farden said the tweak is necessary because the pandemic affected Utah’s preseason so much.
“We are going to balance the strategies and make sure we have enough power but err on consistency,” he said.
Farden was excited to see the Utes hit 28-for-28 in their season-opening win at the Best of Utah, especially since the Utes added a few more “E,” passes, which can earn up to .3 for difficulty. The Utes also want to upgrade a few vaults too, but Farden is doing so cautiously.
NO. 3 UTAH AT NO. 2 OKLAHOMA
When • Sunday, 3 p.m. MST
The second-year coach wants to be aggressive, but is mindful of the challenges the pandemic brings. Not only did it affect preseason practice, Farden knows meets could be canceled or there could be times when top gymnasts have to quarantine and sit out meets. He wants the Utes to have big scores, but he also wants to avoid having a disastrous meet with a lot of falls because he doesn’t want that kind of performance to go into the rankings formula.
“We just don’t know what is going to happen with this season,” he said. “We are going to have to err on the side of consistency.”
Interestingly, most teams would consider watering down the balance beam routines since that is often seen as a make or break event in terms of hitting. However, that is one area the Utes can afford to be aggressive.
Utah returns the same beam lineup that earned a No. 2 ranking last season. Farden is experimenting with the order, having Alexia Burch lead off instead of Emilie LeBlanc in the season opener, but overall things should remain similar to 2020.
“On away meets beam separated us last year, being able to come from behind on it,” he said. “The lineups aren’t set in stone but we know what to expect.”
Knowing they can push beam a little, even if they are holding back some in other areas, gives the team some confidence, sophomore Abby Paulson said.
“It’s always important to have that level consistency, but we have the talent to set us apart on beam,” she said. “We have some really hard series but we are already hitting them consistently.”
Competing at Oklahoma will force Utah’s gymnasts to be consistent to have a chance at scoring an upset. In Farden’s mind it is the perfect test.
“We want them to be aggressive and consistent under pressure,” he said. “That is the goal.”