The Red Rocks are headed to Texas after finishing in first place in the Salt Lake Regional with an overall score of 197.125, defeating Pac-12 rival UCLA in the process.
UCLA finished in second with a 196.375 score, and fellow Pac-12 school Washington finished in third with a 195.825.
With the Bruins, the Huskies and in-state rivals Utah State and Southern Utah University in the group, Utah was under a lot of pressure to deliver in front of the Huntsman Center crowd.
Co-head coach Tom Farden didn’t hesitate to mention that winning Regionals is always a top priority, but the team had the characteristics to overcome all the adversity to get the win at home.
“It was obviously a goal of ours,” Farden said. “It feels good to move on and to continue the journey with this group of kids. They’re a great group. They’re gritty, have a good spirit about themselves and have strong will.”
The night began with Utah on the sidelines with a bye. While the Red Rocks were waiting for their turn, Washington took the early lead on the floor, earning a combined 49.200 score, but UCLA was impressive on beam, with the highlight coming from Danusia Francis’ impressive take-off and landing.
While the Bruins took a break in the second rotation, the Red Rocks came marching in and flew out of the gates on the bars with routines that brought the Utah crowd to its feet after each landing. Breanna Hughes led the pack with a 9.925, and Tiffani Lewis continued to impress in one of her top events, earning a 9.90. The rest of the lineup followed with scores at or above 9.80, giving Utah a 49.350 overall score.
The Red Rocks then faced their toughest challenge on beam, but the pressure didn’t get to anyone in the lineup. They earned consistent high scores, with Kailah Delaney, Kassandra Lopez, Samantha Partyka, and Baely Rowe each earning 9.850 to help Utah take the overall lead at the end of the third rotation with a 98.575.
During Utah’s second break, UCLA took the reins with a 49.125 overall score on vault. Madison Preston led the group with a 9.900, while the other Bruins fared well with decent routines. The Red Rocks were dropped to fifth due to the bye, and the pressure was on once more to perform well for the rest of the night.
On floor, Hughes again showed her experience, bringing the crowd to its feet with her 9.925 routine. MaKenna Merrell took second-best with her 9.875 score and was followed by Rowe with a 9.850. With its 49.300 overall score, Utah moved up to third, trailing behind Washington and Illinois, who both had byes in the final rotation.
With vault being one of Utah’s stronger events, Delaney took control and finished off the night with an impressive 9.90 score. Lewis followed with a 9.875, and Hughes finished off with a 9.850 score.
Utah was in control of first once again, but UCLA was right behind and had the bars to its advantage. However, a slip-up by Stella Savvidou cost the Bruins any chance of taking the lead, allowing the Red Rocks to take first place in their regional group for the first time since 2014.
It was an odds-defying performance for the Red Rocks, who overcame the adversity that faced them for the past two weeks since their second-place finish in the Pac-12 Championships. But according to Delaney, the gymnasts stuck together and to their ‘Utah Bubble.’
“There’s a lot going on at Regionals, and there’s a lot more pressure in the postseason, but we always make it a goal to stay in our bubble,” Delaney said. “We just had to go out there and have fun because that’s when we’re at our very best.”
With the team celebrating tonight, it’s back to work on Monday as it has another two weeks to prepare for the NCAA National Championship Semifinals in Fort Worth, the last stop before the Super Six.