FORT WORTH, Texas — The 2018-19 women’s college gymnastics season came to an end Saturday night at the Fort Worth Convention Center in the heart of downtown Fort Worth, Texas.
For the third time in four years it was the Oklahoma Sooners who walked away with the coveted championship trophy, followed by the LSU Tigers, the UCLA Bruins and the Denver Pioneers.
For Utah gymnastics, the season ended a day earlier, with a fourth-place finish in the first of two national semifinals.
It was a disappointing early exit for the Red Rocks — “This is so sad,” Kari Lee said through tears following Friday’s meet — in what was truly a record-breaking season up on the hill.
Utah set a new program record with 12 consecutive meets with a team score above 197, as well as a new single-season record with 13 total 197s.
Another first for the program, and for college gymnastics as a whole, was participation in the latest version of the postseason.
The new format was the brainchild, or at the very least the decided passion of longtime Utah head coach Greg Marsden — the “godfather of college gymnastics,” according to UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field — and it significantly altered the end-of-year competition, adding more meets and making for stouter competition overall.
Utah experienced nearly every part of it, save for the four-team championship final, nicknamed ‘Four on the Floor,’ by some, the ‘Flippin' Four,’ by others.
Reviews, courtesy of the Red Rocks, were mixed.
As far as Lee is concerned, the latest version of the postseason is great, desirable even.
“It was interesting, and I honestly like this one a lot more (than the Super Six),” said Lee. “Having the top eight teams make it (to nationals) is probably the hardest thing, because four fewer teams make it now, but I like this format better, ‘cause you don’t have the byes.”
Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden was right there with her super senior, though she admitted she was a little biased.
“I was probably set up to want to love it because I’ve wanted it for so many years,” Marsden said. “It makes sense to me, though, that you put the number of teams with the number of events that you have, and that that would make for a better competition all the way around.”
The biggest concern for Marsden, if you could call it that, was how her athletes would respond physically, and following the Baton Rouge Regional, Marsden felt the Red Rocks responded well.
“I’ve wanted this, but I think their bodies responded really well,” she said. “I saw them do it on a second night. To me, that tells me that the first day did not take the same toll emotionally or physically. It just didn’t.”
Both MyKayla Skinner and MaKenna Merrell-Giles appreciated the chance to compete in the new format — “It was a really good experience and a lot of fun,” said Skinner — but not to the degree of either Lee or Marsden.
Merrell-Giles took the politician's path, noting that the postseason wasn’t “better or worse” than the Super Six, just different.
“It is definitely different,” she said.
Skinner, meanwhile, already wants to redo the format.
“It was hard and I kind of hope next year they change it, even though I did like it,” she said.
Skinner even had a proposal of her own, wishing for regionals to take place over the course of two weekends, rather than one, with teams eliminating one regular season meet from their schedules to make room for the elongated postseason.
“We compete so much as it is,” she said. “To add in an extra meet and make it two days in a row, plus nationals, that is a lot. It is a lot on our bodies.”
She even went further, noting that she might have actually preferred the Super Six, although the new format has its merits.
“It was cool, competitive and intense," Skinner said. "It was cool having that experience, but I liked the other way better just because you didn’t compete as much.”4 comments on this story
No matter the feelings, the format is here to stay in its present form, at least for the time being, and the Red Rocks now know what they are up against.
“It is incredibly hard just to get to the top eight now,” co-head coach Tom Farden said. “You have to go through a gauntlet of back-to-back days of competition just to get here.
“What we’ve done is we’ve compressed the way the rankings work, we’ve compressed a lot of great teams next to each other and you could see that. This made for more parity and it is going to create even more going forward.”