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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Room to Grow in Pac-12

Deena Lofgren

It was a major turning point for the University of Utah on June 17, 2010, when the university announced it had accepted an invitation to join the Pac-10 (now the Pac-12) Conference at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year. At the time, Utah was a member of the Mountain West Conference, and it had been there since the conference was established in 1999. The announcement that Utah would be taking this step forward meant the athletic teams at the U would not only have a new conference to play in with new teams to face, but it would bring new opportunities and challenges.

Fast forward to 2017 where over the past few years Utah has been able to see, feel and reap the benefits of being a part of a Power Five conference. Utah baseball head coach Bill Kinneberg, who led his team to the university’s first ever men’s Pac-12 Championship, was coaching at Utah when the Utes were in the MWC. He witnessed first hand how the transition to the new conference was impacting his program. Not only did joining the Pac-12 change the recruiting for Kinneberg’s team, but things also changed playing wise because they knew what kind of schools they would be competing against.

“It made our program relevant because our baseball conference is so good and [a] national brand that kids from the western parts of the United States want to play in,” Kinneberg said. “I’m not putting down the Mountain West, but from where we were to now is a complete different ballgame.”

Like baseball and many of the other athletic programs at Utah, joining the Pac-12 was a huge step up in competition, but according to gymnastics co-head coach Megan Marsden, the shift to the new conference, while still beneficial, was different for her gymnastics program. Gymnastics had already been competing on a national level with the best programs in the country for many years, and so the competition level the Red Rocks would face in conference action would not be a drastic change. What Marsden said did change was what they were able to join.

“We as a gymnastics program became part of a powerful gymnastics family,” Marsden said.

That coming together as a family has specifically been felt when Utah goes onto regionals and nationals.

“At that point rather than challenging each other we bond together,” Marsden said. “[We] hope to have as many Pac-12 teams at regionals and then moving on to the championships so that we’re well represented in the 12 teams that are at the national championships.”

There has been a lot to learn over the years as Utah has become part of something bigger. There is room to grow as Utah continues to strengthen its athletics. For Kinneberg, what stands out to him about joining this conference and what it has so far taught him and his athletes is that they always have to give their best effort.

“You can’t take a day off,” Kinneberg said. “You can’t skip a day of practice. You can’t have a let down in any means, physically or mentally, because if you do that other team will take advantage of you.”

The necessity to play every game all the way through is another lesson his team has learned. In a conference like this, playing a handful of innings and then resting is not going to cut it.

With the lessons learned, the needed improvements can then be made and more can be achieved. Marsden likes that the conference recognizes her athletes’ success and hard work by giving out different awards every week, because before they were solely focused on working towards the national championship.

“I think it’s been great that we’ve had some other goals within this new conference,” Marsden said. ”It’s made for a very rewarding experience with my team.”

Not only is being a part of the Pac-12 something student-athletes get to be involved in, but all students at the U can get involved with Pac-12 athletics by attending Utah’s sporting events.

“For a student being able to go to those events, I think that has to be very exciting to them coming in as freshmen, as new students, to have that opportunity to watch some of our athletic teams go against the best,” Marsden said.

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