SALT LAKE CITY — It is one of the most anticipated meets of the year — Utah vs. UCLA.
Every year since the Utes joined the Pac-12, the top of the conference has been defined by the battle between the Utes and the Bruins.
Together, they have combined to win six of seven possible conference championships: Utah in 2014, 2015 and 2017, UCLA in 2012, 2016 and 2018.
They’ve battled in the regular season — including last year's Elevate the Stage meet, the teams have an identical 4-4 regular season record against one another as conference foes.
They’ve battled at the Pac-12 Championships, and they’ve battled in the Super Six.
It is truly a clash of titans when the Red Rocks and Bruins compete, and it is for that reason that the meet holds a special place in the hearts of Utah’s gymnasts.
“I feel like UCLA is always the most fun,” MyKayla Skinner said. “They are our rivals and we are always the top-two schools in the Pac-12. We always want to beat them and it is really fun to have that rivalry and the competitiveness.”
“It is always fun with UCLA,” added MaKenna Merrell-Giles. “They are our biggest rivals in the Pac-12 and those meets, when you go against your rival, it is just so much fun because you want it so bad.”
Skinner and Merrell-Giles aren’t alone in those feelings.
For many Red Rocks, past meets against UCLA stand among the most memorable of their careers.
“Last year when we beat UCLA in Pauley (Pavilion) was super exciting,” Shannon McNatt said. “As a team, that was probably one of my favorite meets for sure.”
“(My favorite) has to be my sophomore year against UCLA in the Huntsman,” added Macey Roberts. “The biggest crowd came out and both teams were competing so hard. We were so close the whole meet. I just remember at the end when we found out we won, that feeling was just unbelievable.”
As memorable and fun as Utah-UCLA meets are, they aren’t the only memorable ones.
Each of Utah’s four seniors — Kari Lee, Merrell-Giles, McNatt and Roberts — pinpointed different meets, almost all UCLA-less, as the most important to them.
For Lee, the competition she will remember most from her five years at Utah was one of her first.
“It is kind of bittersweet, but it has to be Pac-12’s in the Huntsman as a freshman,” Lee said. “That was the year Tory (Wilson) went down. As weird as it sounds, that is one of my favorite moments. When she went down — Wilson tore her Achilles — we still had three more people to go and they were all seniors: Corrie (Lothrop), Georgia (Dabritz) and Becky (Tutka). As a freshman I didn’t really understand, but as a fifth year now, I can appreciate that moment. It was very bittersweet, but it is one of my favorite moments because we won.”
McNatt’s most cherished memory also took place in the postseason, only at the 2017 regionals.
“Regionals that year for me, personally, was super exciting,” she said. “That was the first time I got to be in the beam lineup and then I won that event.”
McNatt recorded career-high 9.900 on balance beam that day, a score that remains the best of her career.
For Roberts, the most memorable meet was her first in a Red Rocks leo, the 2016-17 season opener against Michigan.
“Definitely that first meet in the Huntsman,” she said. “It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I had a pretty good meet, but competing in front of that many fans, it is indescribable.”
Merrell-Giles’ favorite is the most recent, Senior Night a year ago against Georgia.
“I was really close to all those seniors, especially close,” she said. “Having a night dedicated to them, it was special, and everyone is always on their game on senior night.”
The common thread in each of those favorite moments? Utah triumphed, but victory alone didn’t make them special.2 comments on this story
“Obviously, you always want to win, but the meets that stand out are the ones where the energy is palpable,” McNatt said. “You can feel the team coming together and you can’t really pinpoint what is different about it. There is just a feeling you get at those special meets and you have no doubt in mind that’ll it’ll be a moment you will remember."
Red Rocks on the air
No. 4 Utah (197.179) vs. No. 2 UCLA (197.639)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m. MST
Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700