SALT LAKE CITY — When Tiffani Lewis begins her bar routine Sunday at No. 21 California, barring a unexpected lineup change for No. 4 Utah, she and her fellow Red Rocks will be competing in their eighth meet in eight consecutive weeks.
Seven of those meets will have been against ranked opponents, with Week 4 victim Arizona standing as the only team not currently ranked in the top 25.
The Red Rocks have managed to score a 197 or better in six of their seven completed meets heading into their contest with the Bears, including the 197.550 they racked up this past weekend at No. 3 UCLA.
The team is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation on floor exercise, No. 2 on vault, No. 6 on bars and, thanks to their showing against the Bruins, No. 7 on beam.
MyKayla Skinner, who is the No. 2 all-around gymnast in the country, has won the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week award four times already, with MaKenna Merrell-Giles earning the award once herself.
All of those statistics, scores and rankings prove one thing — the Red Rocks have been putting in work.
That was clear to anyone who watched them compete in Pauley Pavilion.
For the first time in 10 years, Utah emerged from that edifice victorious.
“There is nothing better than walking out of Pauley Pavilion with a win,” said Maddy Stover. “I heard the stat that we hadn’t won there in 10 years; that just proves that it is a tough place to compete and win in.”
“It felt really good,” Lewis added. “(UCLA) is an amazing team, so it was nice to get a win against a team we know we are going to be competing against at nationals.”
“There are no words,” said Kari Lee. “UCLA is always one of our biggest rivals, and we hadn’t beaten them on their home turf in 10 years, which I didn’t know. We were just so pumped up and excited.”
Such a thrilling victory, when coupled with the consistent excellence the Red Rocks have displayed all season long, brings the question of sustainability to the forefront, however.
The two most important things for any gymnast are availability and sustainability. Like any student athlete, gymnasts must balance school, competitions and more. Exhaustion, both physical and mental, is a real possibility, and it can threaten a gymnast's ability to compete, as well as their ability to compete at a high level.
“I think everyone has a midseason slump, but that comes with being a student-athlete,” said Stover. “We are battling practices, school, tests and midterms. It is kind of like the middle of the semester for any student, but, for us, we have travel on top of that, practice and get treatments. We have a lot more we are balancing.”
“We go through phases of going through the motions,” added Lee. “We try not to let it get to us. It is a really long season, and the coaches know that. We all know that.”
Interestingly enough, it is often gymnastics that gets the Red Rocks through difficult times.
“For me personally, I love season,” said Lewis. “I think it is a lot more fun in season, being able to see old friends and different crowds, and of course, getting to compete at home.”
“It isn’t the gymnastics that becomes repetitive,” added Stover. “At this point (in the season), it is an exciting time. (The) preseason to season transition is a tough one, but midseason to postseason is more of an exciting one.”
Of course, if practice and training ever get to be too much, the gymnasts have an answer for that too.
“We definitely have those days where we are slugging through, especially when we have midterms, tests and projects,” said Lee. “We all kind of help each other through it.”
“There are times people get a little burnt out, so we try to find fun things to do during practice,” added Lewis.
The coaches play a role as well, limiting the demands on their athletes.
“They keep practices light most days,” said Stover. (Our coaches) are really good about managing our time and our bodies.”
“(Gymnastics) is really what we are meant to do,” added Stover. “We might get a little tired come midseason, but we are here to compete.”
RED ROCKS ON THE AIR
No. 4 Utah (197.329)
at No. 21 California (195.629)
Sunday, Noon MDT
Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, California
TV: Pac-12 Network
Online: Official live scores: calbears.com
Live Utah commentary and scores: UtahUtes.com