SALT LAKE CITY — Come late April every year, after competing for months against some of the finest collegiate gymnastics programs in the country, six schools set themselves apart and earn a spot in the NCAA Championships — the Super Six.
Utah has been one of those schools more often than not. The Utes, with 20 appearances, are tied with UCLA and Georgia for the second-most Super Six appearances in history, trailing Alabama’s 23.
The Super Six brings with it a fierce and high level of competition. The team that wins the event is crowned national champs, but it also introduces a different element to the sport, one that many gymnasts, those from the Pac-12 in particular, are unfamiliar with — competing on podium.
"On podium" signifies an event is held on an elevated stage or platform, usually about 3 feet above the ground, meant to make the gymnasts and the events more easily viewed by fans.
“I can’t tell you who came up with an elevated stage for gymnastics,” said Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden. “I don’t know that history. I just know that in USA gymnastics, in their premier competitions and in Olympic competition, staging for the events is how it is presented.”
According to Marsden, the practice of on-podium competition has slowly worked its way into the world of collegiate gymnastics, most notably at the NCAA Championships.
“It is becoming something that is happening now in college gymnastics as well,” said Marsden.
The reality of on-podium competition is the equipment itself feels different for the gymnasts, less stable.
“The equipment is definitely different on podium,” said Red Rock sophomore and recently named Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week MyKayla Skinner. “It’s bouncier.”
As a result, there is a learning curve for gymnasts when they reach the national championships.
“All of a sudden, at national championships, they are feeling the difference of what the equipment might be like on podium,” said Marsden. “As of right now, our conference championships are not on podium, and so for the Pac-12, anyone that qualifies for the national championships, it is their first time the entire year to be on podium. For some of our athletes, they have never competed on a podium.”
On-podium competition has given the national championships a different feel for the gymnasts, a feeling the Red Rocks will experience for the first time in the regular season this weekend in Reno, Nevada.
Thanks to the efforts of co-head coach Tom Farden, whom Marsden said “worked very hard to get a podium meet that would help some of our conference teams have a chance to compete on podium,” the Red Rocks are one of four Pac-12 schools competing in an Elevate the Stage meet, held at the Reno Events Center, Sunday, Jan. 14.
Utah heads into the meet boasting the No. 2 ranking in the country and will face off against the No. 4 UCLA Bruins, as well as Washington and Stanford, two programs that were ranked in the top 20 in preseason polls.
The Bruins are coming off a victory over Ohio State, a win in which star Kyla Ross won the all-around with a score of 39.5 and set a new career-high on floor with a 9.90.
Stanford, meanwhile, finished second in the NoCal Classic with a score of 194.925 and was led by Elizabeth Price, who earned a perfect 10.0 on bars and is tied for the best all-around score in the country at 39.650.
As for the Huskies, who finished the 2017 season as the eighth-best team in the country, they will kick off their season with a meet against Sacramento State Friday before heading to Reno.
“We are really excited because we are going up against other Pac-12 schools,” said junior Kari Lee.
Throw in the fact that the meet is on podium, and it feels as though the postseason has already arrived.
“We are taking this meet like a postseason meet,” said Lee. “We are definitely going about the training and our mindset like we would postseason.”
“It is going to be helpful,” Marsden added about the nature of the meet. “We have a practice day there, to adjust to the equipment differences, and there will be a discussion about what did you feel and how did you handle it.”
In the end it will come down, as always, to execution.
“The first week against BYU went pretty good. It was a good meet to start off with,” said Skinner. “We just have to prepare to go out there and hit (this weekend), no matter if it is on podium or not.”
• • •
Red Rocks on the air
No. 2 Utah
vs. No. 4 UCLA, Washington and Stanford
Sunday, Jan. 14, 3 p.m. MDT
Reno Events Center, Reno, Nevada
Online: Live video: http://bit.ly/2lHRYwB
Live scores: http://www.meetscoresonline.com/E19425
Utah commentary: http://www.utahutes.com/schedule.aspx?path=wgym