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Utah gymnastics: Utes eager to return to winning ways against rival UCLA

Published February 17, 2017 11:54 pm

Utah gymnastics • Two Olympic medal winners will compete for Bruins.
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The Utah-UCLA gymnastics rivalry long has been one of the strongest in the sport, with the teams battling for national titles on a regular basis.

But putting the teams in the same league has been like adding a bit of salt to an already tasty dish. It was the added pizazz that made it a little bit better.

The two teams have combined to win four of the Pac-12 titles, with Utah winning in 2014 and 2015 and UCLA winning in 2012 and 2016 since the teams started competing in the Pac-12.

While Utah leads the series 51-28-1, including seven of eight meets with UCLA in 2014 and 2015, UCLA got the better of the Utes last year going 3-1 in meetings.

Suffice it to say, there won't need to be many motivating words to get Utah's gymnasts ready for Saturday's 8 p.m. showdown in the Huntsman Center. They know what is at stake.

"This is a special rivalry," Utah coach Megan Marsden said. "Now that we are in the Pac-12 and battling more than once a year, it has become even more heightened. It's going to be incredible for our fans. There are going to be some incredible athletes coming together in competition."

Utah fans know all about Ute freshman MyKayla Skinner, who was an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team and dominated in competition this season, winning 23 out of a possible 30 titles and going undefeated in the all-around so far.

But she will be put to the test more than ever Saturday when UCLA brings gymnasts Madison Kocian, Kyla Ross and Christine Peng-Peng Lee to town.

Kocian competed for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016 and won a silver medal on the uneven bars in addition to helping the U.S. win the team gold, while Ross was a member of the 2012 gold-medal winning team.

Kocian, Ross and Peng-Peng Lee all have earned 10.0s on the uneven bars this season, while Kocian's season high in the all-around is a 39.625.

The Bruins also have another strong all-around competitor in Sonya Meraz, whose season high is 39.225.

Skinner said she has been looking forward to this meet all season.

"I'm pumped," she said. "Competing against your former teammates makes it fun, so I'm excited."

The buildup for the meet might have lost a bit of zing after the Utes lost at Oregon State last week, destroying the possibility of a matchup of unbeaten teams in conference play, but the loss also sharpened the Utes' focus.

They went into that meet knowing they needed cleaner landings and to eliminate small deductions. They now know more than ever how harmful those tenths can be, and the Utes are determined to improve.

"We were definitely upset," senior Baely Rowe said. "So we are focusing on fixing those things. They are the things we can control and we want to have a great competition." —

No. 4 UCLA at No. 5 Utah

P At the Huntsman Center

Time • 8 p.m. Saturday


Records • Utah (7-1, 2-1), UCLA (4-1, 3-0)

Series • Utah leads 51-28-1

Last meeting • UCLA 196.8250-Utah 195.7625 (NCAAs, April 15, 2016)

Of note • The Utes lost to UCLA 197.1-197.075 in the regular season last year. UCLA also beat Utah in the Pac-12 Championships and the NCAAs, while the Utes won in the NCAA regionals. ... UCLA scored a season-high 198.125 in a win over Stanford last week. ... UCLA's lone loss was to top-ranked Oklahoma on Jan. 15. ... Saturday's meet is a red out with fans encouraged to wear red.






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