After finishing first at the 2017 NCAA Fayetteville Regional, the No. 4 University of Utah gymnastics team will travel to St. Louis, Mo. to compete at the NCAA Championships. This marks the Red Rocks’ 42nd straight appearance at nationals.
The Red Rocks had to overcome some adversity in the week leading up to regionals when sophomore Kari Lee sprained her ankle. Co-head coach Megan Marsden had hoped that it would heal up a little better before the meet, but it was enough for Lee to manage a dismount on bars.
With Lee sitting out the rest of the events, Marsden had to make some adjustments to the lineups. Sophomore MaKenna Merrell was back on floor, sophomore Shannon McNatt was going to debut on beam for the first time, and sophomore Erika Muhaw was taking over on vault.
“I thought that our athletes continued to stay focused and driven for an incredible postseason quest,” Marsden said. “We had some people step up on floor, beam and vault, so some of the kids who haven’t seen much time were put in a position with their backs up against a wall. I’m proud of them for doing so well.”
In its rotation for the first semifinal, Utah will be competing against No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 6 UCLA, No. 7 Denver, No. 11 Washington and No. 12 Oregon State beginning at 11 a.m. MT. The second semifinals will consist of No. 2 LSU, No. 3 Florida, No. 5 Michigan, No. 8 Alabama, No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Nebraska.
Marsden said her girls are going to see a lot of teams they have already competed against, but at the same time it will still take a strong fight from the Red Rocks in order to come out on top. There is one school, however, Utah has yet to see on the floor.
“We have not seen Oklahoma this year. They are certainly, in my opinion, the team to beat,” Marsden said. “Their scores and consistency over the year has shown that they are by far, in a way, the best team out there. There are several of the rest of us that are fighting to move on into the Super Six. It will take a great performance and I know that, and our athletes will be prepared for that.”
To determine the rotation order of semifinals, the NCAA conducted a blind draw, and the Red Rocks drew the Olympic rotation of vault, bye, bars, beam, bye, floor.
“We’ve started on bars the last couple of meets, which I like, but I love starting on vault because we can get that great, powerful event to start on,” said freshman MyKayla Skinner. “We are really strong on floor so it will be fun to end on that. I’m excited to start on vault, and I think this lineup will be good for us.”
The top three teams from each semifinal will advance to Saturday’s Super Six on April 15. The Super Six is set to begin at 7 p.m. MT.