SALT LAKE CITY — Friday afternoon, within the confines of the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the campus of Louisiana State University, the Red Rocks will embark on their latest postseason journey.
The program has been on more than a few such odysseys over the years, seeing as Utah gymnastics has qualified for 43 consecutive national championships, including all 37 NCAA Championships.
This latest postseason qualifies as a new chapter in that long and storied history, not only for Utah gymnastics, but for college gymnastics as a whole.
The postseason has been remade, which has been a long time coming.
“I am so excited,” senior Kari Lee said. “This is something Greg (Marsden) has been fighting for a long, long time. To see it actually happening, to see it happen, it is all kind of surreal.”
The changes mean the Red Rocks will likely compete in a meet on consecutive days during their stint in Baton Rouge this weekend.
The first, one of two regional semifinals, will pit Utah against No. 11 Minnesota, BYU and Arkansas.
A top two finish in that contest will earn Utah a berth in the regional final, against one of the top two finishers from their own session, as well as the top two finishers from a competition held Friday night.
That meet features No. 3 LSU, No. 14 Auburn, Arizona State and George Washington.
The top two teams from Saturday’s regional final will then advance to the NCAA Championships.
In truth, no one has any idea how the new format will turn out.
At least not yet.
“I am excited to see how it goes,” said junior MyKayla Skinner. “It’ll be interesting. I talk to my mom about it all the time, because we have to compete two more times. I mean, really? But at the same time it makes it more exciting and challenging. I don’t really have much to say about it now, just 'cause it hasn’t happened yet.”
Whatever memories are made over the weekend, good or bad, Utah gymnastics will always have fond feelings for LSU, thanks to the Super Six in 2015.
It was Marsden’s final season as co-head coach of the Red Rocks, and entering the postseason Utah wasn’t really considered a national title contender.
The team had won the Pac-12 Championship, but in the process lost senior All-American and co-captain Tory Wilson to a career-ending ruptured Achilles, not to mention a broken foot.
The ability to pull out that win made the meet one of the most memorable in program history, the most memorable of Lee’s career, but it didn’t appear to do any favors for the Red Rocks’ national championship aspirations.
Without Wilson, Utah barely advanced out of regionals and entered the NCAA Championships as the lowest seeded of 12 teams.
Incredibly, the Red Rocks were practically unbeatable on that highest stage of collegiate gymnastics.
Utah ultimately lost to Florida in the Super Six, by just .05 of a point, but the second-place finish was nothing if not record-breaking.
In fact, the Red Rocks set a new school record, with back-to-back meets with the highest postseason scores in program history.
What does any of this have to do with LSU?
Well, the Tigers were at that Super Six.
They weren’t competing, they fell short of the final day of competition, but they were on hand to watch Utah’s performance.
And they cheered. They cheered for the Red Rocks.
It is something Utah will never forget.
“I have major respect for them,” said Lee, the last remaining gymnast from the 2015 team. “They were really cheering for us. That really humbled me.”
More than humbling her, the experience reminded Lee of what she believes to be the greatest part of sports — sportsmanship.
“It reminded me that it is about more than just the gymnastics,” said Lee. “Sportsmanship is really cool to see.”
The experience truly touched any and all associated with Utah.
Every time LSU was brought up this season, co-head coach Megan Marsden reminded her team of LSU’s actions those four years ago.
It was LSU's character that got Utah so excited to go to Baton Rouge, and the reason they've followed the Tigers’ exploits each and every year since.3 comments on this story
It is why they know LSU to be a burgeoning national title contender, with a top-10 fanbase, nationally, to boot.
It is that sportsmanship displayed four years ago, that will allow the Red Rocks to walk away from Baton Rouge with fondness for the Tigers, regardless of the result.
Red Rocks on the air
NCAA Regional Semifinals (Session 1)
No. 6 Utah vs. No. 11 Minnesota, BYU and Arkansas
Friday, 1 p.m. MDT
Pete Maravich Assembly Center, Baton Rouge, LA
TV: SEC Network+ (available through the ESPN app)
Radio: ESPN 700