The No. 5 Utah Red Rocks gymnastics team (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) will host No. 9 Georgia (5-7, 4-3 SEC) in the "Senior Night with the Stars" meet on Saturday, Mar. 12 at 5 p.m. MT. Live television coverage of the meet will be provided by Pac-12 Networks. Fans are encouraged to be in their seats by 4:45 p.m. Utah is coming into this meet having posted their highest score of the season last week, a 197.525 at Michigan. This is the final regular-season meet for the Red Rocks, so it marks the last time seniors Kailah Delaney, Breanna Hughes and Kassandra Lopez will compete in a regular-season meet at the Huntsman Center.
BlockU caught up with Hughes and Lopez at practice this week to talk Senior Night and their plans after Utah gymnastics. Both gymnasts said that the meet will be bittersweet for them. For college gymnasts, the end of their collegiate gymnastics career marks the end of competitive gymnastics. The end of any athlete's career is tough because it is something they have dedicated much of their life to. This meet does not mark the last time they will compete in the Huntsman Center though because they will have NCAA Regionals in Salt Lake City on Apr. 2. While the feel of a regional meet versus a home meet differs, it has softened the blow a bit for the seniors. Hughes told me it was similar to what happened last year for seniors like Georgia Dabritz who also got to compete in the Pac-12 Championships at the Huntsman Center. Hughes has stepped up to be a leader on the team, winning a team-high 15 events this season. She has been named Pac-12 Specialist of the Week twice, on Jan. 19 and Mar. 1. After gymnastics, Hughes plans to go to nursing school to work towards becoming a nurse practitioner potentially working in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Lopez wants to go to graduate school for nutrition. When she suffered an Achilles tear in floor warmups in her junior year in 2014, Lopez found that a proper diet helped her recover from the injury quicker than expected. Because of this, she may want to specialize in nutrition for athletes though she has not 100% decided what she wants to do in the nutrition field.
If the meet between the two top 10 teams draws a crowd of 15,385 or more fans, Utah gymnastics will again have the biggest average home attendance for any women's sport, a title they have claimed five times in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Currently, South Carolina women's basketball has the highest average attendance with 14,925. Utah's average of 14,810 fans is almost assuredly a lock to claim Utah's 12th straight gymnastics attendance title and 32nd overall.
Between Utah and Georgia, the two squads have won 20 national championships in their combined histories. Despite being on opposite sides of the country, this is a heated rivalry with the two rivals often fighting for the national championship. Georgia was the only team to defeat the Red Rocks more than once last season (besting Utah at home in the regular-season finally and in the NCAA Berkeley Regional). Georgia is led by fourth-year head coach Danna Durante. The GymDogs have taken down No. 2 Florida and No. 3 LSU this season (the win over LSU was with a season-high 197.525 on Feb. 13). Georgia features two talented all-arounders Brandie Jay (39.675 high) and Brittany Rogers (39.625 high). Rogers scored a perfect 10.0 on vault at UCLA on Mar. 6. Georgia leads the all-time series against the Red Rocks 27-24-1, but the Red Rocks are 8-4 in Salt Lake City and have won four-straight in the Huntsman Center.
The injury situation is slowly improving for the Red Rocks. Utah will still be without both Delaney and Samantha Partyka on floor for the third straight week. Delaney is tentatively scheduled to be in the vault and beam lineups this week (having returned to vault last week). Partyka, who when healthy competes in the all-around, is scheduled to return to the vault line-up in addition to bars and beam. Resting the gymnastics prior to nationals assures them of their best chance to be healthy for the most important meets of the season. Sophomore Maddy Stover and junior Baely Rowe are scheduled to again replace Delaney and Partyka on floor this week.
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