Red Rocks Continue to Gain Strength Through Halfway Point of Regular Season

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The Women's Gymnastics team celebrates after senior Breanna Hughes's routine in the meet vs. The University of Arizona at the John M. Huntsman Center on Monday, February 1, 2016

Where has the time gone? That’s a question many followers of the Utah gymnastics team should be asking themselves now that the first half of the 2016 regular season is already placed in the record books.

Time flies when you have a 4-1 record, but even though the Red Rocks have had a great start to their 2016 campaign, there were a lot of challenges the team had to overcome before and during this strenuous season, and it’s about to get even more difficult.

So how did Utah perform in the first half of the season? The simple answer: A lot better than expected.

“I’ve felt really good about the progress of the team,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden. “We feel that everyone has been developing the way we hoped. We are trying to pace our team — we don’t want them to be peaking right now — but at the same time we do need to make forward progress, and they’re doing that.”

Marsden is proud of what her team has accomplished after all the challenges that were placed upon them. The Red Rocks lost most of their top gymnasts once the 2015 season came to a close, and the team had to get younger with its recruitment. Four freshmen have been brought to the U to even out the team that was mostly filled with sophomores and a few experienced seniors.

This filled the team with only a few specs of experience compared to last year’s impressive squad. Combining the challenges of coaching a young team with the expectations to deliver could have been especially challenging for Utah’s coaching staff.

Fortunately, the season has been progressing according to plan for coaches Marsden and Tom Farden. All the young gymnasts looked up to the team’s leading senior group — including Breanna Hughes, who has been taking her final season with the Red Rocks by storm with her record-breaking performances. She discussed how well the season has been going for herself and the rest of her teammates.

“I think the season has been going really well overall,” Hughes said. “Every meet we’ve just built on what we’ve done from the previous meet and just been coming into practice working super hard. We just been going out and trusting ourselves, and I think that each meet has been a step forward.”

Hughes isn’t the only one who has led the team. Junior Baely Rowe and sophomore Samantha Partyka have also been putting up consistent performances week in and out, which has helped the whole team gain confidence together.

The team’s togetherness and confidence has also lit a spark within the freshman group. Utah local MaKenna Merrell has shown a massive amount of improvement during the progression of the season, as has Sabrina Schwab — who is No. 10 in the individual national rankings on the floor.

Overcoming adversity and pressure has been one of the main themes for this team, especially when sophomore Kari Lee tore an Achilles in practice.

“[Lee’s] injury was definitely a humbling experience,” Marsden said. “It dropped us to our knees a bit.”

Even though Lee’s loss was a major blow for the team competitively, she still motivates the team as much as she can, especially her replacements, who now have to perform as well as she did in their routines.

Being able to deal with adversity and history is definitely a phrase to describe this program that is currently in the rebuilding process. Entering a new era without old head coach Greg Marsden for the first time in the program’s 41-year history didn’t seem like it would be a walk in the park.

Change is always hard to deal with, especially in college sports, but the Red Rocks have been able to make the transition as well as they compete every season thus far.

c.marquez@dailyutahchronicle.com

@chad_marquez

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