Senior Night for Utah’s gymnastics team on Friday has been pared down from sending off three gymnasts to just one as the Utes have announced both Sydney Soloski and Alexia Burch will return for a fifth year under the provisions allowed by the NCAA for athletes competing this year during the pandemic.
That means only Emilie LeBlanc will be saying her goodbyes to the competition floor when the fifth-ranked Utes host No. 20 Utah State on Friday night. LeBlanc had the same opportunity but wants to focus on a future coaching career according to Utah coach Tom Farden.
The NCAA implemented the rule to allow an additional season of competition and an additional year in which to complete it because seasons have been impacted by COVID-19. The same opportunity was provided for athletes whose spring 2020 season was canceled and the fall season was affected.
What makes the decisions by Soloski and Burch to return a little surprising is most gymnasts are ready to end their careers when they become seniors because gymnastics is so hard on athletes’ bodies. But both Burch and Soloski have been relatively injury free.
“They are huge contributors and we are elated they’ve chosen to stay,” Farden said. “Both of them have gotten better and better and have shown a lot of progression through their careers at Utah.”
NO. 5 UTAH VS. NO. 20 UTAH STATE
At the Huntsman Center
When • Friday, 7 p.m.
Livestream • UtahUtes.com
Soloski has been competing only on the floor this year as the anchor. She has scored 9.9 or higher in all but one meet. Burch is competing on everything but the floor and has been one of the Utes’ best on vault, scoring 9.975 twice.
“I came to Utah to compete in front of the best 15,000 fans in the nation and that’s how I want to go out,” Soloski said in a press release. “I don’t fully know what is in store, but I’m optimistic we will be back in the Huntsman with fans and there is no greater feeling than having thousands of people cheering you on while you do the sport you love.”
Rather than counting toward the team’s 12 scholarships, the two will receive “athletic aid” to cover their year. The rest of the athletes will also receive a free year, but the athletic aid won’t continue and those athletes who elect to stay will count toward the scholarship limit.
Having Soloski and Burch back means the Utes will be stocked next season since they also welcome a strong freshman class of Sage Thompson, a junior Olympic uneven bars national champion, and Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker, both of whom have been national team members since 2018 and were on the 2018 and 2019 World Championship teams which won gold medals.
“To have two world team members in the same class and with Sage, it’s exciting,” Farden said. “We have some pretty good kids on the team right now.”