Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Utah gymnasts celebrate a routine in Salt Lake City Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. The Red Rocks competed against Washington.
SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah gymnastics team knows the road to the NCAA championships will be anything but easy after it received its NCAA regional draw Monday. Fresh off a dominant Pac-12 championship win, the Red Rocks drew arguably one of the toughest regionals. Fifth-ranked Utah is headed to Fayetteville, Ark., where it will face No. 8 UCLA, No. 17 Arkansas, No. 24 Arizona State, Utah State and UC Davis on April 5.
It will be the fourth meeting this season between Utah and UCLA, with Utah holding a 2-1 advantage. Utah defeated Arizona State twice this season, but hasn't faced the other schools.
“This is a dangerous regional to be in,” said Utah co-head coach Greg Marsden. “Arkansas can be a really good team. They have a history of surprising people, especially when they are hosting on their home court. UCLA, we know, is a very good team.
“It is postseason, so it’s win or go home. We just need to make sure we are in a good place and do not take anything for granted."
Marsden had some fun with the site selection since he was raised about 70 miles outside of Fayetteville, where he admitted he spent a lot of weekends as a kid. Utah assistant coach Tom Farden also had a stint at Arkansas when he was an assistant in 2010.
Utah will start on bars at the regional after sitting out the first rotation, and follow with beam, a bye, floor and vault. Utah hit for a season-high 49.6 on bars at the Pac-12 championships, which included a 10.0 by Georgia Dabritz in the event. The Red Rocks are ranked No. 1 on floor, No. 3 on vault and No. 4 on bars.
“This is really a great rotation for us because we get to finish up on our two best events,” said Dabritz. “We are also coming off a really strong bars’ performance.”
Joining Utah at the regional will be Utah State, which is making its first regional appearance since 2007. The Aggies finished fifth at the Mountain Rim gymnastics championships last weekend, hitting for a season-best 196.075. It was their best score since 2004.
Brigham Young is headed to Seattle for its regional, which features three teams from the MRGC — No. 25 BYU, No. 16 Boise State and No. 20 Denver. Joining the group are No. 4 and SEC champion Alabama, No. 9 Nebraska and Washington, which BYU defeated earlier in the season.
Southern Utah makes its way to Minneapolis. The Flippin’ Birds will be facing four new teams in No. 2 and Big 12 champion Oklahoma, No. 11 Illinois, No. 14 Minnesota and No. 19 Cal. They will see a familiar face in San Jose State, which they beat earlier in the year. Southern Utah is also coming off its best score of the season (196.125) at the MRGC last weekend.
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“It’s amazing that a state with the population base that we have has four NCAA women’s gymnastics programs,” said Marsden. “I think it’s wonderful, and everybody is doing a great job right now. The fact that we are all in the regionals reflects that.”
All members of the MRGC and Pac-12 earned spots in the regionals, which will take place on April 5. The top two teams from each regional site advance to the NCAA championships in Birmingham, Ala., April 18-20.