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Kory Mortensen, University of Utah
Members of the University of Utah gymnastics team pose after placing fifth at the NCAA Championships in St. Louis on Saturday, April 21, 2018.

FORT WORTH, Texas — What is different about nationals? What sets the NCAA Gymnastics Championships apart?

In a sport where the routines are the same week in and week out and the gymnastics no different than what each and every gymnast has practiced and competed a thousand times before, the difference between postseason competition and the meets that came before can be difficult to pinpoint.

In truth, gymnasts and coaches often go out of their way to emphasize that the national championships are no different than any other competition.

“It is funny because Robert (Ladanyi) — an assistant coach at Utah — always tells us that it is no different than what we have been doing, it is no different from any other meet,” Utah junior MyKayla Skinner said. “That is definitely true, but also it’s not, for sure.”

No, Skinner and her fellow Red Rocks agree that nationals are unlike any other competition, and the reason is simple: Pressure.

“It is the pressure,” Skinner said. “It is there more than any other meet and you have to learn to work with it, to deal with it.”

“The pressure is there, the expectation is there, and the want to make it to the final four is there,” added Kari Lee.

“You have worked so so hard to get here, to qualify, and it feels like if you aren’t willing to bring it at nationals you are throwing all of your work away,” chimed in MaKenna Merrell-Giles.

It is that hitherto unfelt pressure that makes nationals the competition of the season.

This postseason, the Red Rocks might have more pressure on them than ever before, thanks to a much-publicized alteration in the postseason format.

Utah is No. 5 heading into the national semifinals — one of two such competitions to be held at the Forth Worth Convention Center on Friday.

The Red Rocks must defeat two of the three teams in their semifinal, including the defending champion and No. 2 ranked UCLA Bruins, No. 3 LSU and No. 6 Michigan, to even get a shot at the program’s 11th national championship in a four-team championship final Saturday night.

“Our seed is so hard,” Skinner admitted. “It really is going to come down to who is the best that day. You are going to make it or you are not.”

The pressure and the stakes are why gymnasts attend the University of Utah to begin with, however, and the Red Rocks are ready for the challenge.

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“We are excited,” said Lee. “It’ll be hard, but you have to do what you have to do.”

“It is the last meet of the season,” Merrell-Giles added. “You think to yourself, ‘I can die after this and go sleep for a week.’ We are so dialed in. It’s going to be hard, but this is it.”

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Red Rocks on the air

NCAA National Semifinal (Session 1)

No. 5 Utah vs. No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 LSU and No. 6 Michigan

  • Friday, 11 a.m. MDT
  • Fort Worth Convention Center, Fort Worth, Texas
  • TV: ESPN2
  • Radio: ESPN 700
  • Stream: WatchESPN