This (meet) is just so special. Just the intensity of it. You want to do good in every meet, but we have so many rivals in the Pac-12 that we just want to do the best that we can. I’m excited. —Utah's MaKenna Merrell-Giles, on the Pac-12 Championships
SALT LAKE CITY — Through the 11 weeks of the college gymnastics regular season, the Red Rocks of the University of Utah proved they had some of the best gymnastics in the entire country.
Chief among them was and is MyKayla Skinner, the No. 2 ranked all-around gymnast in the nation.
Skinner won the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week award five times this year, set a new Pac-12 career record and is currently third on floor exercise, fifth on vault, 10th on uneven bars and 18th on balance beam in the national rankings.
Teammate MaKenna Merrell-Giles, the eighth-ranked all-arounder, took home a Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week award herself, is sixth on floor and 11th on vault and, perhaps most impressively, has two perfect 10’s to her credit.
The truth is, the list hardly stops there.
There is All-American Kari Lee, who has returned to elite form this season, locked down a spot as an all-around gymnast and picked up three wins in the process.
There is all-arounder Missy Reinstadtler, who has been a rock all year for Utah and as recently as last weekend was scoring or tying career-highs.
There is also Kim Tessen, who has two wins this season on vault alone and has been one of the Utes most consistent performers in that event, not to mention uneven bars.
There are senior All-Americans Tiffani Lewis and Maddy Stover as well as freshmen standouts Sydney Soloski and Alexia Burch.
All of those gymnasts and more propelled the Red Rocks to a top-five national ranking and have maintained the tradition of excellence that has and continues to define the Utah gymnastics program.
And yet, the thing about sports is you are never really finished. There is no resting on laurels, there is no dwelling in the past.
Rather, you have to continue to prove yourself time and again.
“That is why we are all involved in sports,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “Because we don’t know the outcome and we all like excitement in our lives.”
The latest proving ground for the Red Rocks, the most exciting of the year by far, is the Pac-12 Championships, which kick off Saturday in Tucson, Arizona.
“It is exciting,” said Stover. “I look forward to (Pac-12’s). They have a different energy.”
“This (meet) is just so special,” added Merrell-Giles. “Just the intensity of it. You want to do good in every meet, but we have so many rivals in the Pac-12 that we just want to do the best that we can. I’m excited.”
The Utes have historically excelled at Pac-12’s, claiming the title in 2014, 2015 and 2017. In fact, Utah has never finished lower than third in the competition.
This season’s meet will be a unique challenge, however. The Pac-12 is arguably better than it has ever been.
“I’m really proud of the conference,” said Farden. “What a joy it has been to have all these Olympians and world team members and national team members and new coaches pushing the limits. It is exciting.”
“I think our conference has gotten better over the years that I have been at Utah,” added Stover. “That makes the caliber of the meet better. Everyone has to be on their game.”
The Utes will compete in the evening session, starting on uneven bars. They will be joined by the UCLA Bruins, as well as the Washington Huskies and the California Bears.
“Honestly, anything can happen,” said Lee. “UCLA is a really good team this year. Washington and Cal all bring something; just something new every single time we compete against them.”
Elite competition aside, the Red Rocks are confident.
“We have been to Arizona. We know how the equipment feels,” said Lee. “You can feel a different vibe with this team. We have a lot more to bring. We have this kind of edge to us.”
“I know if we go out there and hit 24 of 24 routines, and do them to the best of our ability, that that is a success,” added Farden. “We’ll see where it takes us.”
Red Rocks on the air
Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships (Session 2)
No. 4 Utah (197.540) vs.
No. 3 UCLA (197.840),
No. 8 Washington (196.915),
No. 10 California (196.775)
Saturday, 7 p.m. MDT
McKale Center, Tucson, AZ
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700 AM/TuneIn.com
Online: Live scores: arizonawildcats.com