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Utah gymnastics: Red Rocks more prepared, confident for NCAAs this season

Published April 13, 2017 10:50 pm

Utah gymnastics • After last year's meltdown, beam has been point of emphasis.
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St. Louis • Given what happened a year ago, the Utah gymnastics team is approaching the 2017 NCAA Championships driven by the need for redemption.

Last year in Fort Worth, Texas, the Red Rocks did not reach the Super Six, finishing a disappointing ninth overall after a flat-out disaster on the balance beam.

This year's team is ranked fourth in the country, swept the Pac-12 and NCAA regional championship trophies, has an all-around national champion contender in freshman star MyKayla Skinner, and is expected to qualify for Saturday's finals.

But the Utes won't take anything for granted on Friday. Not after last year.

"We've got a chip on our shoulder," senior Baely Rowe said. "We didn't place the way we wanted to last year and this team has the mindset and the goal-oriented ability to reach the national championship, we know. We all want that, and we know we can do that."

Looking back at last season, the Utes believe they weren't prepared enough. This season, the Utes feel they are mentally stronger and physically more prepared, junior Maddy Stover said. They have practiced more routines and even held beam practices on a riser similar to the NCAA setup.

"When you put the balance beam on a podium and you're at nationals, things can just go astray," Stover said. "So we've been training on that. We have a good mix, too, of young kids and returners, so I think that is going to help bring confidence into nationals. Maybe it's good they don't know what to expect and they can go and just do nationals."

The Utes can take a lot of comfort in their beam efforts this season. Even when there have been mistakes, teammates have been able to compete unfazed, preventing a bad chain of events. Perhaps most notable have been the showings on beam in key meets. Utah scored 49.4 in the regular season against UCLA and again in its Pac-12 Championship-winning performance. Even in losses at Oregon State and Georgia, Utah did well on the beam with scores of 49.3 and 49.25, respectively.

Utah co-coach Megan Marsden, who oversees the balance beam, said she has been impressed by the team's tenacity and believes the Utes have a good shot at making the Super Six.

"We know what we are up against," she said. "We also know there isn't a lot of wiggle room at the NCAAs, but they've worked hard and prepared and knows what it takes to get into the Super Six. We have to go with the goal of hitting 24 routines and see where that puts us."

The one disappointment leading up to nationals is an ankle injury to Kari Lee, who is one of the team's best on the beam.

She didn't compete at regionals because of the injury and was replaced by Shannon McNatt, who won the beam with a 9.9 in her first routine on the event.

But perhaps rather than highlighting an injury to a veteran, the switch on beam speaks to the team's strength this year — this group's ability to handle challenges better than last year.

"This team has continued to believe in the moment," Marsden said. "Watching these young women grow is proof of that." —

NCAA Championships

P At Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis

Schedule • Friday, sessions at 11 a.m. MT (ESPN2) and 6 p.m. MT (ESPNU)

Format • Two sessions of six teams on Friday, with top three in each session advancing to Super Six

11 a.m. Friday session • No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Utah, No. 6 UCLA, No. 7 Denver, No. 11 Washington, No. 12 Oregon State

6 p.m. Friday session • No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Florida, No. 5 Michigan, No. 8 Alabama, No. 9 Georgia, No. 10 Nebraska.






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