SALT LAKE CITY — The wallpaper had faces on it.
That was all MyKayla Skinner could really remember about her last trip to Athens, Georgia — home of the Georgia Bulldogs, or in the case of gymnastics, the Gymdogs.
Specifically, it was the walls of the hotel where the Red Rocks stayed two years ago, ahead of their annual meeting with UGA, that stuck in her mind.
Those walls had little faces on them, faces that followed each other down from the ceiling to the floorboards.
“We stayed in a very interesting hotel last time,” Skinner said. “It was antiquey, vintagy, but really it was just weird. We were all kind of creeped out by it.”
“I remember the hotel,” added MaKenna Merrell-Giles. “We stayed in a pretty unique hotel. That was memorable.”
“It was weird,” Skinner said. “There were faces on the wallpaper, just little faces going down.”
Outside of those faces, there isn’t much about Athens or the University of Georgia that Skinner or Merrell-Giles remember.
For that matter, Kari Lee, who is making her third trip to Georgia in her Utah career, struggled to pinpoint one meaningful thing from those trips to Dixie.
“No,” she said laughing. “I don’t remember a thing and this is my third time going to Georgia.”
It may be for the best that the Red Rocks’ collective memories of their time in the Peach State are faint.
Of all the opponents Utah gymnastics has battled over the years, arguably none has been more trying than the Gymdogs.
Georgia leads the all-time series, 28-26-1. The Gymdogs have defeated Utah 13 of the last 15 times the teams have faced off in Athens, with the Utes’ last win coming in 2011.
Scariest of all, since 2000, Georgia has practically doubled up Utah and holds a 20-11 edge.
More importantly, as far as this season’s matchup is concerned, the Gymdogs are on fire.
Ranked No. 8 in the country, Georgia has already upset No. 3 Florida, in Gainesville no less. Most recently, the Gymdogs took first place in an Elevate the Stage quad meet, against the likes of No. 9 Minnesota, No. 20 Arkansas and Michigan State.
And yet, the No. 6 Red Rocks — fresh off a bye week that did wonders for banged up gymnasts like Sydney Soloski (shoulder and lower back) and Alexia Burch (ankle arthritis), as well as for those overcoming rust, specifically Hunter Dula — are coming off the two finest meets of their season, in a loss to UCLA and a victory over Michigan.
Keying both of those performances was a set lineup, the first real established lineup of the season.
It is that lineup that will take the floor in Stegeman Coliseum Saturday afternoon.
“We feel like we have come up with our lineups,” Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden said. “That is a good thing. The last thing to come around was beam, but now we have been through a couple of meets with the lineup that we want to move forward with it.”
More than just set lineups, however, the Red Rocks have determined their eight-deep depth chart on each event, just in case.
“We have eight deep on every event that we are trying to keep ready because you just never know,” Marsden said. “All things going well though, we think we know our lineups on all four events.”
BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: Two gymnasts who are not on the eight-deep? Missy Reinstadtler and Cristal Isa.
Reinstadtler is in the lineup on uneven bars, but the former all-arounder and NCAA All-American (balance beam) will not compete on any other event this season.
The junior has been limited by a sore foot, one that has in truth bothered her for three years now.
As for Isa, strained ligaments in her elbow has made it nearly impossible for an in-season comeback.
“We haven’t made any final decisions as far as (Reinstadtler’s and Isa’s availability), but the likelihood of us injecting them into a lineup this late is not likely,” said Marsden. “I doubt, even if one of them started to come along, that we would inject them in now heading into postseason, but there are no guarantees on that.”
THE IDEAL DESTINATION: It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise — what with the faces on hotel wallpapers, not to mention the nearly four-hour flight from Salt Lake to Atlanta, which is inevitably followed by a nearly two-hour bus ride from Atlanta to Athens — but trips to Georgia do not merit a place among the Red Rocks’ favorites.
Trips to UCLA on the other hand …
“California is always fun because we get to go to the beach,” Skinner said.
“I remember last year it had just snowed when we went to UCLA and Tom (Farden) booked us an earlier flight so we could go to beach,” Merrell-Giles added. “It was so nice. It had just snowed, and it was so cold here. It was that point of winter where you are just so sick of the snow.”
Los Angeles certainly warrants a place among the favorites of Marsden, but Seattle takes the cake.
“I love Seattle, Washington,” she said. “I love that we stay right downtown. We don’t go to a suburb, we stay in a downtown high-rise hotel that looks over the water there. The shopping in that downtown area is to die for, in my opinion. That is my favorite place to go.”
Shopping played into one of Lee’s all-time favorite trips as well: last year to Tucson, Arizona, twice.
“Last year for Pac-12s and when we traveled to U of A, we had a little time to go around the college town and just shop a little bit. We did some damage shopping,” she said. “Tom always advises us to save our money, but sometimes you can’t resist.”
When it comes to Skinner’s favorite locales, family always plays a role.
“I love going to ASU because it is like my hometown,” she said. “I also like St. Louis, that has been the best. Having nationals there, it brings back memories for me because in Elite we always had our championships there. I love being there and being back in that arena. I have family there, so they come out. That is always fun.”
Ultimately, the gymnasts favorite travel destinations have sun and lots of it.
“I feel like we always go to Arizona when it is snowing here, which makes it one of the favorites, California too,” Merrell-Giles said. “Just going to a warm place when it is cold.”Comment on this story
“We go some places and it is too cold, snowy and gross,” added Skinner. “We already live in snow, I just what to get out of it.”
“You have to get that vitamin D,” said Lee. “We don’t get that in Salt Lake City a lot when it is snowing.”
Red Rocks on the air
No. 6 Utah (197.315) at No. 8 Georgia (197.100)