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SALT LAKE CITY – Gymnastics fans will get to see a number of talented gymnasts compete Saturday in the Huntsman Center as the NCAA Salt Lake regional begins at 6 p.m. Included in those gymnasts are Utah’s Breanna Hughes and Southern Utah’s Danielle Ramirez. Both are enjoying breakout seasons and both are coming off conference all-around titles.
Hughes has been Utah’s best gymnast this season, surprising many after she struggled to find her groove her sophomore and junior seasons. Part of the problem came from pressure to follow up a great freshman effort while the other part was having a talented senior group ahead of her that comprised the bulk of the Red Rocks’ routines.
But Hughes battled through and has shown no signs of slowing in her senior year where she has already garnered four All-America honors, as well as the Pac-12 all-around, vault and scholar-athlete awards. Not bad considering she’d never done the all-around prior to this year.
“She (Hughes) is a Minnesota girl,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “She is a blue-collar girl who is going to outwork you.”
Hughes has done just that, committing to Farden and Megan Marsden, Utah’s other co-head coach, before the season began, saying she was going to make her final season her best. She’s done everything possible to back up that claim, earning a team-best 19 event victories while leading a young Utah squad.
“Breezy is having fun and she’s more confident than I’ve ever seen her,” said Marsden. “It’s been really great to see her handle the pressure and have the success she’s having.”
Fresh off the Pac-12 all-around title, Hughes is the favorite to grab the title again at the regional. She’s hit career-bests in every event this year, most recently a 9.975 on vault at the Pac-12 championships on March 19. She’ll lead a Utah squad Saturday that is attempting to qualify for a record 41st-consecutive national championship.
For Southern Utah, Ramirez has experienced more of a steady climb to her success. She entered her junior season having only done the all-around one time before. Ironically it was at Utah in her debut meet, for which Scott Bauman called the result a bit of a “train wreck” after she fell in two events.
So the Flippin’ Birds took a step backward with their freshman and decided to focus Ramirez’s energy where she was strongest, on vault and bars. Her sophomore year she saw career bests on vault, bars and beam.
This season, she checked off the final box by becoming a regular on floor, and on top of that she beefed up her uneven bars routine by adding in a premier release move. The Ray release is anything but easy and it didn’t hit right away for Ramirez who had trouble with her timing. But she settled in and has won three all-around titles in a row. The most recent came at the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Championships (MRGC) on March 19th, where she tied with Utah State’s Bailey McIntire.
“Dani is so long and tall that she makes everything look beautiful,” said SUU coach Scott Bauman. “Her leaps are second to none in the country. She starts off with a leap on floor that is amazing and just builds from there.”
The California native said it was through the recruiting process she ended up in Cedar City and a snowy Utah.
“It’s been fun to watch Dani over her three years,” said Bauman. “She’s fantastic on vault, and has grown so much on bars, beam and floor.”
“Vault is my favorite event and beam is probably my least just because it’s so skinny,” said Ramirez.
The beam may be skinny, but it’s another event Ramirez is doing well in as she won the title at the MRGC meet while tying for the victory on vault. Ramirez leads a Flippin’ Birds squad trying to upset favorites Utah and UCLA at Saturday’s regional.
The top two teams from the NCAA regional advance to the NCAA championships April 15-16. Joining fifth-ranked Utah, No. 23 SUU and No. 8 UCLA, are No. 17 Washington, Illinois and Utah State.