SALT LAKE CITY – It has to happen sometime, right? The end of the dynasty. But these things can take awhile.
The Chou Dynasty lasted 800 years; the Ottoman Dynasty more than 600. Utah gymnastics has only been rolling about four decades. Still, you have to wonder: When is it going to expire? Next year? The next? When the cows come home?
"It will end," predicted Nebraska coach Dan Kendig. "But it doesn't seem that way any time soon."
That will be some future team's problem.
The Red Rocks made it to the national championships for the 37th consecutive year, winning the NCAA Salt Lake Regional on Saturday at the Huntsman Center. So it's on to Georgia for the nationals. If there's one thing you can say about the Red Rocks, it's that they have staying power. All these years later they're still in the chase for championships.
Does it ever make them nervous that the odds will catch up and they'll lose in regionals?
"Yes," said Utah co-coach Greg Marsden. "Of course. It's always nerve-wracking."
But the expected happened again as Utah and Nebraska were the only threats in the house.
"No knock on the other teams," Kendig said, "but there was a gap between the other teams and Utah and Nebraska."
Utah's win in the six-team field avenged a loss in Salt Lake last month to Nebraska. But it was clear after the fifth rotation that it was Utah's meet to win. Nebraska had already finished with a 196.525 final score. Utah needed just a decent beam performance to secure yet another (yawn!) trip to the NCAA Championships. But after five routines, Utah already had enough points to salt away the win. It was all over but the bowing. Though Utah's 196.825 was the lowest score of any regional winner, it qualified for another trip to the nationals.
Which sort of makes a person wonder: How hard is this? Like, what, falling off a log?
Actually, just like that. The Rocks were on the beam when they lost the Pac-12 championship, thanks to a couple of falls.
This time, there was no such misfortune.
And yes, qualifying is even harder than the Red Rocks make it look.
"The competition has gotten so much more competitive over the years," co-coach Megan Marsden said.
As the announcer strung out the reading of final scores, someone in the stands bellowed out: "We already know – we won!"
Of course, people have been predicting that since shortly after the Watergate scandal.
While it has been 17 years since Utah won a national title, Elvis has have never really left the building, so to speak. The 10-time champion Red Rocks are always lurking. In 2001, 2006, 2007 and 2008 they finished second nationally. In 1996 and 2009 they finished third. You might say they're like telemarketers and Amway sales people: They're still making follow-up calls. At the same time, there's always that doubt.
"You're right," Megan said on Thursday. "Possibly the group we put out there this year may not be ready. I don't feel like that's very likely, but other great teams have not made it to the nationals."
It's not as though Utah has been invulnerable as much as persistent. Last year's team finished just sixth nationally, yet Marsden and husband Greg maintained then and now that that team over-achieved. This year's group, though, has been intriguing. It came within .05 of a point of beating favored UCLA two weeks ago in the Pac-12 championship.
"Last year Greg and I were good to say, 'We just do not have the manpower to win this year,'" she continued. "And we felt like our girls overachieved to even make the Super Six. This year, I think if we can put things together down the stretch, they can hang."
That isn't necessarily dreamy talk. Megan allows that Florida has the best talent in the country, with UCLA close behind.
"We're a little more blue collar," she said.
In any event, the Red Rocks showed no sign of expiring on Saturday. They won in convincing fashion. Those nagging worries about being overconfident? Or worse yet, under-confident? No problem. It's business as usual – and that's a good thing. As senior Kyndal Robarts put it, expectations are a good thing.
"Well, I think that's what we want to do. Just have confidence and do the normal things," Robarts said.
Normal as in great.
For the eighth-ranked Utes, winning a national title seems doubtful this year, but who knows? Stranger things have happened.
"We haven't had something really significant to hang our hats on in a long time, a true championship, because we haven't been in a conference," Megan said. "Winning the Pac-12 would have been a big coup for us."
Winning a national championship?
It would be Red Rock 'n' Roll time again. The classics never really go out of style.