Gymnastics: A Season Of Ups, Downs, And Defying Expectations In New Era

gymnastics 11 Justin Adams

The 2016 season has now come to a close, and the Utah gymnastics team feels that it could’ve done better. After finishing last in their group and ninth overall at NCAA Nationals last weekend, the Red Rocks are now back home in Salt Lake City feeling the disappointment of not performing their best.

The disappointment is something this young team will have to get through in order to become better, and it is just one of the hard lessons this group has to learn to become better gymnasts.

But Breanna Hughes, who competed for the last time as a Red Rock on Friday, felt this team accomplished a lot this year with all the challenges that were against it.

“[Nationals] didn’t go any way we’ve planned,” Hughes said. “We had an off night, and it was very disappointing. But looking now after having a few days to recover, we can see how great of a season it was for us.”

Despite not bringing home any major team hardware besides a Regional victory in postseason action, Utah endured one of its most challenging seasons to date and even came out on top, fighting doubt and adversity every step of the way.

When legendary head coach Greg Marsden left his throne for retirement last year after coaching for 40 years, many critics and followers of Utah Gymnastics felt that 2016 would be a tough one to swallow for the program. Having a major coaching change for the first time in the team’s history was sure to cause a shakeup for the new coaching duo of Megan Marsden and Tom Farden, who was announced as Marsden’s new partner shortly after her husband’s retirement.

Though both were experienced within Utah Gymnastics, another challenge awaited them once they got the job: leading a young and mostly inexperienced team into one of the toughest conferences in the country.

You could say that this transition into a new era wouldn’t be an easy one for the Red Rocks, but what carried on from the successful 2015 team was the ability to compete, team mentality and the motivation to prove doubters wrong.

Hughes, who was one of the main leaders of the team over the course of the season, said the team had one acronym that they used to improve themselves individually and as a whole: BOSS.

“It means Build on Self Success,” Hughes said. “It means to give 100 percent to ourselves and our team, and also give all our heart to the team. It helped us build and improve off every practice and also gave us the ability to trust in ourselves and the team.”

Marsden also felt that the team succeeded with overcoming the many adversities they faced over the course of the season.

“The team took all the adversities and challenges that were thrown at them and became stronger,” Marsden said. “Everybody on the team, especially when we lost [Kari Lee to a season-ending injury], felt that it was time to step up and prove themselves. That’s what I really loved about this team.”

With those characteristics in the hearts of each gymnast on the team, the Red Rocks flew out of the gates after a few shaky moments to start out the season. This included beating in-state rivals BYU and SUU, holding off Oregon State after losing Lee, dismantling Arizona and going toe-to-toe with Utah’s biggest competitor, UCLA.

Although Utah couldn’t fend off the Bruins, the Red Rocks continued to climb as they dominated Washington, then went on the road for three straight weeks, beating Stanford, Cal and Michigan in the process.

After the team’s narrow victory over Georgia to close the regular season, the young 2016 Red Rocks were flying with confidence and the blissful ignorance that they could defeat anyone they faced.

That confidence took a blow against UCLA once again at the Pac-12 Championships, but with all the individual awards that were collected, the Red Rocks continued to ‘BOSS’ their way to Regionals, where they took the crown and finally knocked off the Bruins in the process.

What followed at Nationals didn’t go as planned, but the Red Rocks have pride in their work ethic and the success of overcoming adversity in each meet to win.

“I thought of this season definitely as a successful one,” Marsden said. “We exceeded expectations that was planned out at the beginning. You know, a lot of people thought that this was going to be rebuilding year for us, but it was a lot more than that. And now, with the personnel staying and coming in the next few years with the transition, I feel that we can continue to make Utah gymnastics the premier program in the country.”

In Utah’s 40-year history with gymnastics, 2016 won’t be remembered as a successful one to most, but with all the doubt and pressures put onto the young team, it will be used a building block as the Red Rocks continue to improve, heading into a new era of success in college gymnastics.