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Utah gymnastics leads field at NCAA regional Saturday

Utah's MyKayla Skinner performs her floor routine during the meet against California at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 04, 2017.
Utah's MyKayla Skinner performs her floor routine during the meet against California at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 04, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Red Rocks continue their postseason when they travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, this Saturday for their NCAA regional. Utah is heavily favored to win the regional, something different from the role of spoiler for the recent Pac-12 championships — and spoil they did, upsetting UCLA for the title.

Utah isn’t changing its mindset as it prepares for the regional after enjoying a bye week last week. The bye week provided rest but no letdown, as Utah remains hungry in its quest to qualify for a record 42nd national championship. To do that, Utah knows it will need to be at its best.

“We are continuing to work toward hitting 24-24 routines,” said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden. “To be honest, as great as we were at Pac-12’s, we didn’t do that. That has been our goal at hand all season, and we are glad to have more opportunities to get that done. ”

In its league championship effort that yielded a season-best score (197.925), Utah had a fall on vault and stumbles on beam and floor — not quite falls, but the scores did drop into the 9.6 range.

“We are focusing on this meet in our Utah bubble, and continuing to not worry about what we can’t control,” said Marsden.

What Utah can count on is the outstanding efforts that all-arounders MyKayla Skinner and Baely Rowe continue to produce. Skinner is ranked second in the all-around, while Rowe is fifth. Both were recognized as first-team All-Americans last week.

Utah needs to finish in the top two from the regional to advance to the NCAA championships on April 14-15. The fourth-ranked Red Rocks will need to best No. 9 Denver, No. 16 California, No. 21 Auburn, Arkansas and Central Michigan.

The Red Rocks topped Denver in a quad meet back in January. The Pioneers are led by all-arounders Maddie Karr and Julia Ross, who both earned second-team All-American honors in the all-around. Denver’s regional qualifying score average is 197.04 compared to Utah’s 197.55, leaving little room for error for the Red Rocks.

California continues to be a threat but doesn’t have the same scoring power, since standout Toni-Ann Williams was lost to a season-ending injury just before Utah and Cal’s meet in February. Utah won that meet, but only by a small margin in the only outing in which Utah counted a fall this year.

Former Utah assistant Jeff Graba, whose staff includes former Utah All-American Corrie Lothrop, will lead a stubborn Auburn squad. The Tigers had a good season and will be hungry to get back to the NCAA championships for a third-straight year.

Arkansas and Central Michigan round out the group, with both averaging scores in the 195.0 range.

Utah's regional meet begins at 3 p.m. MDT, with the Red Rocks following the rotation of bars, beam, bye, floor, vault, bye.

Across the state

Brigham Young and No. 24 Utah State face off in the Seattle regional Saturday at 5 p.m. MDT, while No. 18 Southern Utah’s regional in Morgantown, West Virginia, begins at 2 p.m. MDT Saturday.