Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Thirty-six gymnastics teams will battle at six regional sites Saturday in hopes of advancing to the NCAA championships. All four of Utah’s women’s gymnastics teams are part of the group of 36.
The top two teams from each regional will advance.
Fifth-ranked Utah and Utah State are in Fayetteville, Ark., where they will match up against No. 8 UCLA, No. 17 and host Arkansas, No. 24 Arizona State and UC Davis, beginning at 3 p.m. MDT. The regional gives longtime friends Greg Marsden and ASU coach John Spini another bout before Spini retires after 33 years. Marsden, Utah's coach, recorded his 1,000 win earlier in the year against Spini.
Top-seeded Utah, the Pac-12 champion, is favored to win the regional, but knows it will need to be at its best to top UCLA and Arkansas. It will be the first time in seven years that one of those three teams doesn't advance to the NCAA championships, which will be held April 18-20.
Utah is the only school in the country to have qualified for all 32 NCAA championships, while UCLA has advanced to 31. The Red Rocks lead the Bruins 2-1 in their meetings this season, and are 2-0 against ASU.
Utah has three NCAA individual regional champions on this year’s squad. Those gymnasts collectively have accounted for six regional titles in their careers. Last season, Nansy Damianova won floor, while Georgia Dabritz grabbed the bars title and tied with teammate Tory Wilson on vault.
In the national rankings, Dabritz ranks No. 1 on bars and is tied for third on floor. Wilson and Kailah Delaney are tied for second on vault.
The Red Rocks will sit out the first round with a bye, and follow with bars, beam, bye, floor and vault. The rotation sets Utah up to close on its two best events as it is ranked No. 1 on floor and No. 3 on vault.
“We really are peaking at the right time, and just have to carry that over to regionals,” said Wilson, who won the Pac-12 all-around title this year. “We are having a lot of fun, and have a lot of confidence now that we can finish the season strong.”
Utah State first-year coach Nadalie Walsh has the Aggies back at regionals for the first time since 2007. The Aggies are coming off their best score of the season, a 196.075, at the Mountain Rim gymnastics championships. Senior Paige Jones is making her fourth regional appearance, having competed as an individual qualifier the prior three seasons.
The Seattle regional, which begins at 5 p.m. MDT, features No. 25 BYU, along with No. 4 Alabama, No. 9 Nebraska, No. 16 Boise State, No. 20 Denver and host Washington. The Cougars are making a fifth-straight regional appearance, and have qualified for regionals in 23 out of the past 26 years. BYU’s KayCee Gassaway hit a career-best 9.9 on vault while tying her career high of 9.875 on the uneven bars at the MRGC to lead the Cougars.
Southern Utah is in Minneapolis, where it will meet No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 11 Illinois, No. 14 and host Minnesota, No. 19 California and San Jose State with a 5 p.m. MDT start time. The Flippin’ Birds are coming off a season-best score of 196.125 at the MRGC, and saw freshman Memory Shettles receive co-freshman of the year honors for the alliance. This is SUU’s sixth regional appearance in the past seven years.
Utah State, BYU and SUU are all fifth seeds and will follow the rotation of bars, beam, bye, floor, vault, bye. Combined, the state of Utah is second only to California, which boasts five teams in regionals in California, San Jose State, Stanford, UC Davis and UCLA.
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