SALT LAKE CITY — There may not be a more dreaded word in all of sports than "rebuild," and for good reason.
That's because whenever coaches, athletes or pundits talk about rebuilding a program, it could be just another way of saying, "Be patient."
So when Utah gymnastics head coach Tom Farden described the upcoming 2020 gymnastics season as a “total rebuild,” following this year’s NCAA Gymnastics Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, he didn’t exactly inspire confidence.
What Farden did do, however, was speak honestly to the Utah gymnastics’ situation.
The Red Rocks are facing a significant rebuild heading into next season, the likes of which they haven’t experienced since the aftermath of the 2015 season.
With the departure of seniors MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Kari Lee, Macey Roberts and Shannon McNatt, the Utes lose two all-arounders, not to mention 10 of 24 routines, or 42 percent of the team’s production.
Throw in the likely absence of junior superstar MyKayla Skinner, who recently declared her intention to attempt to make the 2020 U.S. Olympic team, and the percentage of routines lost jumps to 58 percent.
“We are going to lose a lot this next year,” Farden said. “I know that. It will be a total rebuild.”
The losses go beyond gymnasts, too.
Co-head coach and legendary Ute Megan Marsden has retired, and both assistant coach Robert Ladanyi and volunteer coach BJ Das — who played a big role in overhauling the Red Rocks’ floor routines — have left in pursuit of “other opportunities” (Ladanyi is now with Nebraska, while Das is rumored to be headed to UCLA).
All of those losses promise to make Farden’s stated goal of “getting over that hump and re-energizing the Utah program” all the more difficult.
“You know, we are still trying to figure out that formula,” he said. “For me, looking at what it is going to take, it is about competing in those pressure moments and competing extremely well. The teams that beat us were incredible in the pressure moments and we weren’t. We haven’t been able to figure that out over the last couple of years for whatever reason.
“I am still tinkering with training plans, trying to figure out how to get that, to extract that out of them. To have them perform at their best in the biggest moments. That is what matters at the end of the day.”
It isn’t all doom and gloom up on the hill, though, nor should it be.
Rebuilding has always meant something different to Utah gymnastics, as the Red Rocks have never finished worse than No. 10 overall in the country, and the team brings back a host of contributors, including All-Americans Missy Reinstadtler and Sydney Soloski.
Reinstadtler was injured for most of the year, and was limited to competing on only the uneven bars as a result, but she is slated for offseason foot surgery and will likely make a return to the all-around.
Freshmen Adrienne Randall and Hunter Dula had moments of greatness — Randall on floor exercise against Arizona and Dula on bars at the Pac-12 Championships — while their fellow classmates Cristal Isa and Cammy Hall are both expected to be completely recovered from season-ending injuries.
Alexia Burch and Kim Tessen, meanwhile, each recorded career highs this past season, flashing their potential on vault and bars.
The greatest source of optimism, however, stems from the Utes’ incoming recruiting class, which has been described by Farden as “one of the top classes in the country."
The quartet of gymnasts includes Maile O’Keefe and Abby Paulson, members of the 2016-17 U.S. National Team, as well as Junior Olympic national champions Jillian Hoffman and Jaedyn Rucker.
“They all will bring a championship pedigree and elite level skills to our team,” said Farden.
Both O’Keefe and Paulson bring experience competing “side by side with the best in the world as former U.S. Senior National Team members," he added. "They will bring big meet experience that will surely help our team on the competitive floor.”
O’Keefe headlines the group, as the first P&G national all-around champion to ever sign with Utah — P&G stands for Procter & Gamble, the one-time sponsors of USA Gymnastics’ national championship competition.
“Our fans are going to love this extremely talented freshman class,” said Farden.
There also remains the possibility, however slim, that Skinner could return.
The team is holding her scholarship in reserve until August, at which point they are expected to use it elsewhere.
Regardless of whether Skinner does or does not return to Utah, fans will likely be able to watch her compete in the Huntsman Center this summer, in the USA Gymnastics’ American Classic on June 22. The classic is a qualifying meet for the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships, which are to be held in Kansas City, Missouri in August.
On the coaching front, Utah has moved quickly in its rebuild as well, as Farden promoted Carly Dockendorf to assistant on April 24, and on May 3 announced the hiring of Garrett Griffeth and 2004 Olympian Courtney McCool Griffeth as an assistant coach and as a volunteer coach/choreographer, respectively.
Prior to Utah, the couple coached two seasons at Arkansas, helping the Razorbacks break numerous school records.
Courtney, for her part, is a former Georgia GymDog, NCAA champion and Olympic silver medalist.5 comments on this story
“I have watched Garrett and Courtney since the start of their college coaching careers and they are rising stars. They are a great addition to our staff here at Utah,” Farden said. “Garrett has an incredible work ethic and is an outstanding coach, technician and recruiter. Courtney’s background led her into a career in choreography, where she has excelled not only at the college level, but at clinics and camps around the country.”
All told, with the significant additions to the program, and even in the midst of a “total rebuild,” the future remains bright for Utah gymnastics.