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SALT LAKE CITY — As the Utah gymnastics team rumbles into its season, there’s a new vibe rocking the Huntsman Center.
The team’s talent, determination and hunger were all highlighted in the Utes’ annual Red Rocks Preview in front of 5,100 fans on Friday night.
Setting the mood for the season, the team revealed its new introduction video, which was filmed at the Bonneville Salt Flats. The stunning imagery provided a new look to the legendary program. Throughout the video, the gymnasts said statements such as “Warriors fight back,” referring to building from last year’s season, while highlights from the past were shown. At the end of the video was displayed the text “We are Warriors. We are Red Rocks.”
It became obvious the Red Rocks are determined to hit the play button and grow from last season. The team remains unfulfilled from last year and wants to get closer to the national title, something it narrowly missed in 2015 and hasn’t achieved since 1995. Led by then freshman phenom MyKayla Skinner, the young team placed fifth in last season’s Super Six.
“The week we got back from nationals, we came together as a team. We made goals. We worked through it through the summer and came back in preseason and worked out butts off,” junior Kari Lee said after the preview.
“We really want to be in the top three at nationals,” Skinner said. “We want it and we’re striving for that goal this year.”
It’s in Utah gymnastics’ DNA to be motivated and hungry, but what’s different about this squad is its maturity, according to co-head coach Tom Farden.
“(The team) was really young last year. It showed at times,” Farden said. “Because of the age and the experience this team has, there’s a different feel.”
Also adding to the new ambiance is the team’s chemistry, which everyone on the Red Rocks nods to.
“The vibe is definitely different this year,” Skinner said.
“You can tell they’re becoming more of a seasoned team out there,” Farden added. “The chemistry got stronger.”
The experienced team, which added two freshmen who “came into the fold seamlessly,” has adjusted some of its training approach to help it reach its goal. One issue that hindered the Utes in 2017 was landings. They’ve spent a lot of time in the preseason practicing sticking those vital dismounts.
“We’ve been practicing sticking a lot this preseason — sticking and handstands,” senior Tiffani Lewis said. “It’s the little things that will really separate us.”
Progress is already showing. Some of Utah’s dismounts were sticks on Friday night, while some of them were a “controlled step” that’s accepted in practice.
“We want to narrow them down over time into a stick,” Farden said.
With perfected sticks, the Red Rocks will avoid some score deductions. Lewis said that to help the team reach its goal of being a top 3 team, it’s aiming to hit scores in the mid-197s throughout the season.
“We’re capable of that,” Lewis said. “We’re setting more personal goals, not going out to beat other teams, but setting high standards for Utah gymnastics from the beginning.”
“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but if we can build on to last year, this program would be ecstatic,” Farden said.
The Red Rocks’ season begins Friday, Jan. 5, at 7 p.m. in a home meet against in-state rival BYU.