Utah gymnastics strives to stay 'elite' as 2016 season begins

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SALT LAKE CITY — For Utah gymnastics, Friday is not just the beginning of a new season. It's the beginning of a new era.

Friday marks the 2016 season opener for the Red Rocks, who finished last year as the runner-ups in the national championship. It also marks the debut of co-head coaching tandem Megan Marsden and Tom Farden. The two aren't strangers to the program. Marsden enters her seventh year as co-head coach and her 32nd overall on the Utes coaching staff. Farden is now in his sixth season at Utah, but his first as a co-head coach.

Former Ute gymnast Meredith Paulicivic, who spent last season as Arizona's assistant coach, is now Utah's assistant coach. She'll work with the gymnasts on floor routines. Marsden will focus on beam and Farden on vault and bars.

"We feel like we make a great team," said Marsden.

"We have defined the roles that we think put us in the best position to keep Utah gymnastics among the elite programs in the country."

Despite the team's changes, Utah hopes to keep its incredible reputation. Maintaining the majority of a roster that was just short of winning Utah's 11th national title last year will help this season. Eight gymnasts return to the team, including seniors Kailah Delaney, Breanna Hughes and Kassandra Lopez; junior Baely Rowe; and sophomores Kari Lee, Tiffani Lewis, Samantha Partyka and Maddy Stover. Four freshmen — Shannon McNatt, MaKenna Merrell, Erika Muhaw and Sabrina Schwab — join the fourth-ranked team.

The coaches speak highly of the newest teammates, who each have an impressive resume, including the Junior Olympics. McNatt and Schwab also qualified as elite during their club careers.

"Shannon is a natural on beam and floor because of her beautiful quality of movement," said Marsden.

"MaKenna should make a splash immediately. Erika is very powerful, so her best opportunities to compete will be on vault and floor. Sabrina has embraced working on her mental approach in pressure situations and has the potential to compete for lineup spots on each event," she added.

The quad of newcomers will compete in the Huntsman Center for the first time Friday against in-state rival BYU. Utah leads the series 93-2, winning 35 straight.

Fans can enjoy a pre-meet ceremony, honoring the Utes for their back-to-back Pac-12 championships and runner-up finish at the 2015 NCAA championships. The meet will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks at 6 p.m. MST.

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