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Utah can win at least share of Pac-12 gymnastics title with win over Cal

Ute coach Tom Farden puts a big emphasis on winning the conference, calling it ‘the mark of great consistency’

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) THe Alexia Burch celebrates her performance on the balance beam, in PAC-12 gymnastics action between the UCLA Bruins and the University of Utah, at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019. Burch, now a senior, says the Utes have hit their stride at just the right time as they approach the season's stretch run.

Utah’s fourth-ranked gymnastics team set several goals in its quest to duplicate the success it enjoyed in 2020. Now the fourth-ranked Utes (4-0, 7-1) are on the verge of locking up at least one of those milestones.

The Utes can earn at least a piece of the Pac-12 regular season championship on Friday with a win over No. 9 Cal (4-0, 4-0), the only other undefeated team in conference play after the Utes beat UCLA (3-1, 4-1) on Saturday.

Utah’s final conference meet is at Oregon State (1-3, 2-4) on March 5. Since the Beavers aren’t ranked in the Top 25, it stands to reason the Utes have a good shot of finishing undefeated in the Pac-12 with a win Friday.

Utah coach Tom Farden likes the symbolism of winning the Pac-12 as much any tangible reward.

“In my mind the mark of a great team is consistency,” Farden said. “To win in this conference speaks volumes about a team.”

Save the 197.025-196.55 loss at Oklahoma which will prevent the Utes from an undefeated season, the Utes have been very consistent in 2021.

The Utes have scored above 197 the last four meetings and have been consistent in their lineups as well. The Utes did have a few hiccups in their win over UCLA, the most since the loss at Oklahoma, but they still won which speaks to the team’s talent level as much as anything.

UTAH VS. CALIFORNIA

At the Huntsman Center

When • Friday, 7 p.m.

TV • Pac-12 Networks

A key to the Utes’ success has been the underclassmen and their performances.

“We feel this team had clarity in their goals from the beginning and they have expressed those goals,” Farden said. “We know the talent we lost from last year but we knew the talent we brought in and that it was going to sustain us at a high level.”

Sophomores Maile O’Keefe, Jaedyn Rucker and Abby Paulson have been extremely strong in their events and freshman Lucy Stanhope has done so well she is competing in everything except the uneven bars. Fellow freshmen Jaylene Gilstrap and Alani Sabado have been steady specialists.

Now with many of the season’s tests behind them, senior Alexia Burch said she thinks this team is as good, with the hints of being better, than the 2020 squad.

“We are at that point in the season when things are starting to click,” she said. “It feels like we are one or two steps away from a huge breakthrough.”

To get there, Farden maintains the team just has to refine some things. The main elements are in place and that’s a good feeling as they head into the final stretch of the season.

“We have some small details in the work that has to be done but it’s not whack-a-mole,” he said. “Our work is right in front of us.”

The Utes believe a strong finish to the regular season will put them in a great position for the postseason run. Their only regret so far is that loss to Oklahoma that dashed the hopes of an undefeated season.

“I’m still bitter about that,” Farden said.

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