Why the Utah gymnasts expect a nailbiter when they host the Pac-12 championships at Maverik Center

Powerhouses have given way to parity, with four teams splitting the regular-season title.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah chalks up before competing on the bars during their gymnastics meet with Stanford at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022.

The stage is set for what could be one of the closest Pac-12 gymnastics championships the conference has ever had.

Utah will be the top seed at the Maverik Center this weekend by virtue of its national qualifying score, an average of 197.87, which puts the Utes No. 4 in the country. But California, Oregon State and Arizona State will be close behind. Utah has already lost to Cal and Arizona this season. And the conference’s top four teams all shared the Pac-12 regular-season title with 5-2 marks.

How tight might the scores be Saturday?

Check this out: The UCLA Bruins, traditionally a threat for the title? They won’t even be featured in the evening rotation.

If UCLA is going to claim the top spot, the fifth-seeded Bruins will have to do so out of the 1 p.m. afternoon session.

Pac-12 Championships

Maverik Center

Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

Afternoon session (national qualifying scores): UCLA (196.795), Stanford (196.415), Washington (196.29), Arizona (196.23)

Evening session: Utah (197.87), Cal (197.22), Oregon St. (197.04), Arizona St. (196.88)

Utah elected to start its competition on the vault, the favored rotation by most teams. Cal will start on the bars, Oregon State will start on the beam and Arizona State will start on the floor.

“It’s the best-case scenario,” Utah senior Sydney Soloski said of Utah’s rotation. “It’s the natural order we are used to and we seem to get better with each event.”

In the afternoon session, UCLA will start on vault, Stanford on the bars, Arizona on the beam and Washington on the floor.

Utah coach Tom Farden attributed the growing strength of the conference in part to the elite talent present. The Utes have two gymnasts, Amelie Morgan and Grace McCallum who participated in the recent Olympics, for Great Britain and the U.S., respectively. Oregon State has another in Jade Carey and UCLA has Jordan Chiles and Canadian Olympian Brooklyn Moors.

“The talent level is so dense right now,” Farden said. “There are the fifth-year gymnasts because of COVID like Alexia Burch and Sydney Soloski and then we have more Olympians in the NCAA than ever before, so all the teams are being elevated. We saw that last year, too, when Arizona State was nipping at our heels at regionals and Cal made the Elite Eight.”

The Utes are coming off a 198.125-197.875 loss to LSU Friday, but they were without Adrienne Randall and Maile O’Keefe due to illness. Farden anticipates having both available for the Pac-12 meet.

“The team didn’t learn about the lineup changes until the bus ride over and they were still ready to go against a great program,” he said. “I was happy with the way they handled things but we will see how Maile trains this week, but we are expecting her to be fine.”

Utah won the Pac-12 Championships in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2021.

Farden acknowledged his team is expecting a close meet Saturday. The intriguing sidebar is having the Bruins in the earlier session, where if they are hot their score could hold up. The odds are that won’t happen, not with the talent present in the evening, but it is UCLA and it is 2022, so don’t count out anything.

Top 25 Rankings

1. Oklahoma 198.08

2. Florida 198.05

3. Michigan 197.96

4. Utah 197.87

5. LSU 197.735

6. Alabama and Auburn 197.656

8. Minnesota 197.395

9. Kentucky 197.25

10. California 197.22

11. Missouri 197.19

12. Michigan St. 197.125

13. Oregon St. 197.04

14. Arizona St. 196.88

15. Denver 196.87

16. Ohio St. 196.865

17. Arkansas 196.82

18. UCLA 196.795

19. Illinois 196.775

20. Maryland 196.665

21. BYU 196.64

22. Georgia 196.575

23. Iowa 196.465

24. Boise St. 196.445

25. Utah St. 196.435

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.