I have never questioned this team. I also haven't questioned their desire to be back on top of the Pac-12, and the postseason goals they have as a team. —Utah co-head coach Tom Farden
STANFORD, Calif. — The Pac-12 gymnastics championships take place Saturday, and the typical suspects are the top contenders. Third-ranked UCLA is favored to repeat as champion, but a feisty Utah squad, which is ranked fifth, is looking to bring the title back to Salt Lake City after the Bruins broke Utah's two-year championship reign.
Tenth-ranked Oregon State is also tough, as those three teams are the only title winners in the Pac-12’s five seasons. Fifteenth-ranked Washington rounds out the second session, which begins at 7 p.m. (MDT). The league’s champion has always come from the second session that includes the four highest-ranked squads.
That leaves No. 16 Cal, Stanford, Arizona and Arizona State competing in the first session at 2 p.m.
Utah knows it will have its hands full with UCLA and Oregon State, having beaten the Bruins at home this season while losing to the Beavers on the road. The Red Rocks have the talent, but they’ll need to produce big scores to match a hot-UCLA group that has moved up to third in the national rankings.
“I have never questioned this team’s motivation to be great, to be hard workers, and to be willing to make the sacrifices necessary,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “I also haven’t questioned their desire to be back on top of the Pac-12, and the postseason goals they have as a team.”
Utah does carry a chip on its shoulder, having struggled at the league championships last year after a solid regular season. The result was missing out on a third straight title.
Though the team competition is going to be heated, the individual events should be just as competitive. MyKayla Skinner is second in the country and tops in the Pac-12 in the all-around with a 39.6 average. UCLA’s Madison Kocian ranks fifth nationally, while Oregon State’s Kaytianna McMillan is seventh and Red Rock Baely Rowe is ninth. Utah has won four of the five individual league all-around titles.
On vault, Skinner is the only Pac-12 gymnast in the top 10 rankings. UCLA’s Kyla Ross and Peng-Peng Lee sit one-two in the bars’ rankings, with Stanford’s Elizabeth Price fourth. The Bruins’ Katelyn Ohashi is tied for third on beam and her teammate Ross is 10th, but sandwiched in between is the Beavers’ Madeline Gardiner at No. 6. Former U.S. team members Skinner (t-third) and Kocian (t-ninth) are the lone league representatives on floor.
Utah will need another good showing from the standout Skinner and talented Rowe, but it’s the rest of the team that could break or make a Utah title. Kari Lee competed in the all-around last week for the first time this season and the result was a win that broke Skinner’s unbeaten streak.
All-arounder MaKenna Merrell is another one Utah needs to do well. The sophomore can hit the big skills to score high, but she’s fallen in each of her last two meets, and in different events (beam and bars).
Freshman Missy Reinstadtler and junior Tiffani Lewis will also play big roles with both competing in three events. Reinstadtler is still settling in and gaining confidence, but both she and Lewis are capable of scoring 9.9 or higher.