After two weeks of recovery from a long and grueling season, the Red Rocks are back at it at the Huntsman Center to compete in the first step towards a national championship with the NCAA Salt Lake Regional.

Being hosted at the U, the Red Rocks are excited to impress their home fans once again by defeating some of the top teams and gymnasts in the West. Senior Breanna Hughes, who will be competing for the last time at the Huntsman in her college career, wants to make sure her last performance at home will be the best one.

“It will be bittersweet,” Hughes said. “It will definitely be sad, knowing that it’s the last time competing in the Huntsman, but it will also be fun going out there one more time with the team in front of our fans and experiencing it one more time.”

Utah also gains a small advantage by being the top seed in the group but will have a big target on its back with the amount of competition behind them — mostly familiar faces and teams who would like to see the Red Rocks choke at home.

Along with in-state foes Utah State and Southern Utah coming to town, the Red Rocks also welcome Pac-12 foes UCLA and Washington to Salt Lake City.

Both of these in-conference foes took advantage of Utah’s mistakes at the Pac-12 Championships in Seattle and knocked Utah off the top of the podium. The Bruins claimed top dog in the meet, stripping away Utah’s opportunity of winning the conference three years running. Senior Kassandra Lopez, who is also making her final appearance at the Huntsman this Saturday, is excited to get at the Bruins again and top them this time.

“I think we’re all excited [to go against UCLA again],” Lopez said. “We want to beat them. We want to have a good meet against them like with any other team we face.”

The Red Rocks are aware of the Bruins and their potential, having lost to them twice already this season, and are looking to not let the same mistakes happen again. Being at home against their West Coast rival could create a slight advantage, though, with the team winning 11 of their last 12 regional events hosted at home.

Even though these two teams will be keeping tabs on each other, Utah also has to be cautious of the 18th- and 23rd-ranked Huskies and Thunderbirds. Illinois also joins the bunch as well as Utah State, who will be followed by many of their fans to cheer them on when they travel south from Logan.

With the top two teams advancing to the next round in Fort Worth, Texas, the Red Rocks need to not only be wary of their competition but, more importantly, focused on themselves and their routines. According to co-head coach Megan Marsden, the only way this team can advance to the NCAA Nationals is to believe in themselves and in their abilities. Focusing on their opponents can only do so much for the team.

“In gymnastics, there isn’t a whole lot you can do in a night that has to do with the other team,” Marsden said. “It’s really about you, your team and your performances.”

Hughes also agrees that her teammates, especially the younger ones, need to take it one routine at a time in order to have the best success possible.

“We’re just focusing on what we know what we can do and just taking it one routine and event at time,” Hughes said.

The Salt Lake Regional kicks off this Saturday at 6 p.m. MST.

c.marquez@dailyutahchronicle.com

@chad_marquez

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