SALT LAKE CITY — When the Red Rocks take to the floor at The Family Arena in St. Charles, Missouri, Friday night, it’ll kick off arguably the most difficult stretch in program history.
First, Utah will battle No. 5 LSU, No. 14 Missouri and Stanford in the GymQuarters Mardi Gras Invitational.
Three days later, the Utes will be in Palo Alto, California, where they will once again compete against the Cardinal.
Finally, on Saturday, Feb. 23, Utah will host the No. 3 UCLA Bruins.
All told, the Red Rocks will compete in three distinct meets in a nine-day period, a rapid-fire competition circuit that most, if not all, of the gymnasts have yet to experience in their careers.
“I haven’t,” MyKayla Skinner said, “though in Elite, when we went to world’s it was like a meet every day because Marta (Karolyi) put so much pressure on us,” she added with a chuckle. “I feel like this is actually going to be a lot, like boom, boom, boom, but it’ll be kind of nice to get the meets out of the way.”
“No, not really,” Kari Lee added. “I guess you could count my freshman year at nationals, because I did prelims, Super Six and then individual finals as well. That was three straight days of gymnastics. We have (nine) days to do three meets, but I am interested to see how this goes.”
Why schedule such a gauntlet, particularly during the middle of the season? It all comes down to the postseason.
This season, unlike the previous 26 years, the NCAA gymnastics championship will not be decided at the Super Six. Instead, the national championship will be determined by a four-team final with the moniker Four on the Floor.
To get to that championship meet, teams must survive up to three consecutive meet days, as part of the newly restructured regional and super-regional format.
It is that setup, designed to “reduce the length of each meet in the championship by more than an hour, which places a priority on student-athlete health and well-being," per the NCAA, that Utah’s coaches hope their gymnasts will be prepared for as a result of this upcoming stretch.
“I think it will be good for the girls, a good test for them,” co-head coach Megan Marsden said. “With us changing time zones so many times, it will be a test. A tough test for some of them, but I think it is good to get them out of their comfort zone. And, it is all in order for us to be more and more prepared for postseason.”
“It is going to be really good for us to have that pressure,” Skinner added. “Just to see how we handle the competing, traveling and competing. It’ll be a new adventure and hopefully will get us ready for postseason.”
To that point, Friday’s quad meet will take place on podium, as do the national championship and this year's Pac-12 championship.
Perhaps more importantly, the invitational will pit the Red Rocks against a fellow title contender in LSU and another strong SEC opponent in Missouri.
“I think going up against a couple of Southeastern Conference teams on podium is a great opportunity,” Marsden said.
The continued health of the Red Rocks will go a long way in determining exactly how the team attacks the stretch.
“We are getting back,” co-head coach Tom Farden said. “Missy (Reinstadtler) is back, or almost back. MyKayla is tumbling." (Skinner is expected to compete in the all-around this weekend.)
“On Monday we will assess the weekend, and see how our all-arounders feel, how their bodies are feeling and we will determine changes off that,” Marsden added.Comment on this story
“Every meet is important and we certainly want to take care of business in every meet if possible,” she continued. “If we can’t do that, we are going to try to put our best foot forward on Friday. If this team call pull off a pretty impressive meet on Monday, though, it’ll show Tom and I what we will be capable of come postseason."
“I’m excited,” said Farden, “and I think the team is excited about this challenge."
Red Rocks on the air
No. 4 Utah vs. No. 5 LSU, No. 15 Missouri and Stanford
Friday, 5:30 p.m. MST
The Family Arena, St. Charles, MO
Live video: FloGymnastics
Live scores: MyUSAGym