SALT LAKE CITY — At first glance, the Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships would seem to be but a bump in the road for Utah gymnastics.
The Red Rocks are known for national titles — the program has 10 to its name, not to mention nine second-place finishes — and are desperate to bring another to Salt Lake City.
A regional tournament that has little to no bearing on seedings for regionals, or much of an effect at all on the national postseason proceedings, shouldn’t have that much significance, certainly not anything on par with regionals or nationals.
And yet, it might actually mean more.
That was the feeling that emanated from each and every Red Rock this week in the buildup to the conference championships, which are to be held Saturday at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.
Whether it be MyKayla Skinner, MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Kari Lee, Missy Reinstadtler, Kim Tessen or Macey Roberts — the list could include every Utah gymnast — the answer was the same — Pac-12s matter and they matter as much as any other postseason competition.
“It is a destination in itself,” Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden said. “Winning Pac-12s is always a goal in hand.”
Reasons are plentiful.
For one, the Pac-12 Championships usher in the postseason.
They serve as the initial payoff for a year’s worth of hard, oftentimes grueling work.
“We work so hard all season for this moment and this is the time,” Skinner said. “We are into postseason now. This is the time of year where it gets fun.”
“This is the part of the season that we wait all year to get to,” added Merrell-Giles. “Pac-12s kick off our postseason.”
More than that, the conference championships afford the Red Rocks the opportunity to stand as representatives of the University of Utah on a national stage.
“We represent our university in one of the best conferences in the nation,” said Reinstadtler. “We put the name of the University of Utah out there and can prove to the nation that we are one of the best, that this conference is one of the best.”
“Utah gymnastics is going to battle and when we do this we represent more than just ourselves. We represent our entire athletics department,” Marsden added. “The Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in the country, in my opinion, and we are one of only two teams — Utah baseball being the other — that have had the luxury of winning a championship. Our girls know that this is a special time where we can represent all of the teams.”
There is also the promise of jewelry.
“This is the first meet we can get a ring and we want to get a ring,” said Roberts. “We want to prove to everyone what we have been working so hard for.”
“We want to win titles,” added Reinstadtler. “That is what we are here for.”
Both Reinstadtler and Roberts were a part of the 2017 Utah gymnastics team, the last to win the conference title.
This is the time. We are going to come in and get this done. – Utah’s MyKayla Skinner
So too were Skinner and Merrell-Giles, as well as Lee and Tessen, not to mention Shannon McNatt, and the memory of that title remains strong.
“I knew we were really good, but when we won I was like, ‘This is what I came here for.’ That moment with the team, winning that championship and getting a ring, it is indescribable,” said Roberts.
Just as strong, however, is the bitter disappointment the team felt a year ago when UCLA took home the title.
“It sucked to lose,” said Skinner.
That loss has lit a fire under the Red Rocks, however, one they hope will take them to the top.
“It is always a disappointment when you come up short, but that made us more determined for this year,” said Tessen.
“It put a little fire inside of me. I never want to lose again,” added Reinstadtler.
Arguably no gymnast is more fired up than Skinner, who is simply ready to go to work.
“I am ready to get out there. I am ready,” she said. “This is the time. We are going to come in and get this done.”
No. 6 Utah will take on No. 2 UCLA, No. 14 Oregon State and No. 16 Cal in the second of two sessions, starting at 6 p.m. The first session will pit No. 18 Washington, No. 21 Arizona State, Stanford and Arizona against one another, starting at 1 p.m.
Red Rocks on the air
Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships (Session 2)
No. 6 Utah (197.375) vs. No. 2 UCLA (197.885), No. 14 Oregon State (196.575) and No. 16 California (196.540)
Saturday, 6 p.m. MDT
Maverik Center, West Valley City
TV: Pac-12 Networks