It’s been more than two decades since the Utah gymnastics team has won first place at NCAA Nationals, but this year, the team plans on breaking the streak.
Being one of the of the best gymnastics programs in the country, it is surprising that the Red Rocks have come home from Nationals empty-handed for so many years.
Following their last championship year in 1995, the Red Rocks were the leaders of the pack in Utah Athletics, being the most successful program at the U. Even though they have come close to winning on numerous occasions — including last year’s second place finish by less than half of a point — the Red Rocks haven’t cemented their place as the best program in the country after dominating for so many years in the 20th century.
This year seems to be different for Utah for many reasons. At the beginning of the season, many thought this young, inexperienced team in the middle of a coaching transition wouldn’t be on the same level as the best Utah teams of the past.
But with determination, hard work and trust built into each gymnast and the team as a whole, 2016 seems like the year that this team can achieve college gymnastics’ highest honor.
Senior Breanna Hughes feels that this team winning would further Utah’s legacy as a premier gymnastics contender.
“It would be incredible,” Hughes said. “It would be an honor to be part of a team that would bring home a national championship and be part of that legacy.”
Co-head coach Megan Marsden also believes this to be the case heading into the final days before they leave for Fort Worth, Texas.
“I think that this group has [winning the championship] in their minds,” Marsden said. “I don’t think they’re afraid to dream of that. There’s nothing wrong with having that type of mentality. They’re extremely competitive, they like to win and have won a lot this year. So they’re headed to the big show.”
Marsden, who has been part of the Utah coaching staff for 32 years, has experienced winning six championships and 10 individual championships during her tenure. Now with new co-head coach Tom Farden by her side, they have instilled a new level of confidence in the team’s gymnasts that they can beat the best of the best.
“[Farden] tells them before and after practice at least two times a week that they are an elite-level team and would put them up against anybody,” Marsden said. “He’s been building that confidence within this group for a lot of weeks. They’re in the palm of our hands and they believe it.”
Twenty-one years is a long time to go without winning a championship, but this team is determined to win, especially after coming so close last season. Marsden feels that last season’s .05-point loss provided the gymnasts from last season more motivation to compete better, and they will try again for top honors this weekend.
“[The loss] was bittersweet for only a moment,” Marsden said. “We hoped for a magical ending, but at the same time, our team has been seventh and ninth in the previous two years. So to be in the race right down to the end we had to let go of the loss really quickly.”
But if things don’t go the way this young team hopes for, it has already accomplished more than what was expected of it at the beginning of the year. Hughes felt that this Red Rocks team has shown that they have the spirit to go head-to-head with the biggest teams in the country.
“No matter what, we really left our mark this season,” Hughes said. “I think we’ve shown a lot of people that this isn’t just a young team, but it’s a young team that can contend with the big dogs. We’re never going to give up and will fight through adversity to do the best that we can.”
Utah’s chance comes this weekend, and if the Red Rocks can pull off the unexpected win, it will go down in Utah history as the championship that was worth the 21-year wait.