The Utah gymnastics team’s intent is to do everything it can to prepare for the NCAA Championships, which is why it is competing Sunday in Reno, Nev.
The second-ranked Utes will face No. 4 UCLA, Washington and Stanford in an event dubbed “Elevate the Stage.”
The purpose for the meet is two-fold. For the organizers, having a college meet the same weekend as a club meet will give younger gymnasts exposure to collegiate programs. For the Utes, it is a chance to compete on a setup like the one used at the national championships and many elite competitions.
The podium raises the floor several feet for better viewing and TV purposes. While gymnasts say they feel a minimal difference, it is enough that the Utes decided to participate to get the experience.
“We felt like other teams are heading in this direction and using it as a recruiting tool or just experience on the podium, and we thought we should be doing it too,” Utah co-coach Megan Marsden said.
Utah’s first experience with the format always has been at nationals, since neither the Pac-12 championships nor the NCAA Regional uses a podium where little things are magnified, junior MaKenna Merrell-Giles said.
“The adrenalin is pumping and you definitely notice things,” she said. “On podium, the bars and vault feel about the same, but the floor is bouncier and the beam seems a little more wobbly. It isn’t much, but it is a difference.”
The Utes have set up their practice beam on a podium this season.
“If we want to win a championship, and we do, we are going to continue to take a closer and closer look at doing all the things that will make our athletes comfortable,” Marsden said.
The event is sponsored by Knight Eady Sports Group, the same one that oversees the NCAA Championships, Utah co-coach Tom Farden helped organize the meet.
Getting other Pac-12 teams involved was important, and the meet will give the Utes a measuring stick to see how they size up to conference rivals.
Utah and UCLA have won the most conference titles — UCLA won in 2012 and 2016, while Utah took first in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Oregon State won in 2013.
“UCLA has been in the Super Six, and Stanford and Washington are great programs,” Marsden said. “It’s a good opportunity to prepare our team.”
As for the meet itself, the Utes might not make many lineup changes, with the balance beam being the exception. Marsden is assessing the lineup where Shannon McNatt or possibly Sydney Soloski could be used as leadoff. MyKayla Skinner and Kari Lee, who went fifth and sixth in the opener, could switch as well.
The benefit of having Lee go last is the Utes can decide whether she should try her difficult combination move based on how the rest of the lineup has performed.
UTAH VS. UCLA, WASHINGTON, STANFORD
When • 3 p.m. MT Sunday
TV • None
Live commentary • utahutes.com
Of note • This is the season opener for Washington and Stanford. … UCLA defeated Ohio State 196.25-193.2 in its season opener. … Utah never has competed in the state of Nevada. … Freshman Alexia Burch (Sparks) and Tiffani Lewis (Las Vegas) hail from the state. … The meet will feature two NCAA champions as it pits Utah’s MyKayla Skinner (floor) against UCLA’s Kyla Ross (bars and beam). … Live video stream will be available for the meet with a paid subscription to FloGymnastics.