One would think competing on a sport’s biggest stage would create the most pressure. But for the teams in the NCAA Gymnastics Championships finals on Saturday, there is a sense of relief. That particularly goes for Utah, a team that made it clear reaching the finals was its goal all season.
If the Utes had tripped up in the regionals or Thursday, there would have been a huge sense of disappointment.
That isn’t the case anymore.
“It’s really about who is ‘on,’ on that day,” Utah coach Tom Farden said.
Saturday we find out which team that is, as Utah, Florida, Auburn and Oklahoma compete at 11 a.m. MDT in Fort Worth, Texas. The meet will be televised by ABC.
Utah placed third last year. The Utes are going for their first national title since 1995.
Like the Utes, Florida and Oklahoma are past winners. Meanwhile, Auburn is going for its first national title after beating Missouri and defending champion Michigan on Thursday.
Florida starts on the vault, Auburn on the uneven bars, Utah on the beam and Oklahoma on the floor.
The Utes ended on beam in their last three meets, performing extremely well under pressure.
Farden expects the same from his team even though the rotation is flipped.
“It’s our strength,” he said. “At this point in the season they have done the routines so many times you have to trust them being confident in the work they’ve put in. That is all there is.”
Still the rotation will put pressure on freshmen Amelie Morgan and Grace McCallum, gymnasts who have played key roles in the beam lineup but haven’t experienced the craziness of the NCAA finals.
Farden said he won’t rule out making any lineup changes if he feels the need, but acknowledged at this point there is more mental coaching than physical guidance.
“There are always some maintenance things but it’s just tweaking the mindset and making sure everything is right there,” he said.
The Utes felt a little pressure in their uneven bars set Thursday, leading them to a season-low score of 49.2125. But they responded well by dominating the beam to earn their spot in the finals. Avoiding such a dip will be a must if the Utes want a shot at winning Saturday.
“We have some brilliant athletes,” Farden said. “We know they are capable of scoring high but we don’t want them to force things either. I am proud of the way they’ve been able to put blinders on and stay focused.”
Going into the NCAA Championships, Florida looked like the team to beat after it scored a 198.775 in the regional competition.
However, the Gators showed they aren’t immune to the pressures of the big stage. They had some shaky moments in their competition Thursday. They used a big effort on the floor where they scored a 49.5125 to advance with a 197.975. Oklahoma had the day’s highest score of 198.1125, overtaking Utah which was in the lead after the first rotation.
Expect plenty of lead changes in the finals.
“Everything has been condensed so there is a lot of parity,” Farden said.
How to watch the NCAA Gymnastics Championships
Utah, Oklahoma, Florida, Auburn
Saturday, 11 a.m.