Bleeding Red: Red Rocks have been astonishingly, consistently excellent

Red Rocks earn another win
Off to nationals again
The accolades are mounting
41 years and counting

COMMENTARY — Last Saturday night on The Hill the Red Rocks placed first in the Salt Lake City Regional and earned yet another trip to the national championships for a record 41st consecutive year. These talented ladies competing for the national gymnastics championship has become so commonplace (and, quite frankly, expected), that we need to take a step or two back in order to fully appreciate this incredible feat.

utesOnce upon a time in 1976, Utah launched a gymnastics program under the guidance of a young graduate student named Greg Marsden. During their inaugural year, the Red Rocks placed 10th in their first trip to nationals.

To help put that in perspective, the first time Utah competed in the national gymnastics championship, Gerald Ford was President of the United States (and we have had six different Presidents since then). In 1976, gas cost 59 cents a gallon, the Stretch Armstrong action figure had just hit the market, and Billboard’s Top Hot 100 was an eclectic mix including “Silly Love Songs” by Wings, “I Write the Songs” by Barry Manilow, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

Co-head coach Tom Farden has candidly stated “I wasn’t even born,” the last time Utah wasn’t competing in the national championships. Neither were any of the current Red Rocks, and, similar to Farden, it is entirely possible that the parents of one or more current gymnasts were not born by 1976 either (but I don’t have the time or resources to run that leg of research down).

Photo courtesy Utah Athletics
Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

In fact, the NCAA did not even oversee the national gymnastics championship back in 1976, but rather the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (or AIAW) was the governing body. The NCAA would take control in the 1981-82 season, and Utah seamlessly made the transition, winning the first five national titles under the NCAA’s watch.

Over the course of 41 years of dominance, the Red Rocks have had three head coaches, hundreds of different gymnasts, and have been adored by hundreds of thousands of devoted fans. Utah has won a record 10 national titles (as well as being the runner-up nine times, but never finishing lower than their 10th place finish back in 1976), have produced a record 347 NCAA Championships All-Americans, and is the only team to appear in every single national championship for the past 41 years.

Other notable streaks pale in comparison.

The 1972 Dolphins are the only NFL team in history to finish the year unbeaten and untied, including a Super Bowl victory. However, those 17 games were all won in a single season by a single team. The Red Rocks have a streak 10 times as long with the longest regular season home win streak of any NCAA sport, spanning 23 years (1979-2002) and 170 meets.

Cal Ripken holds the MLB record for playing in 2,632 consecutive games over the course of 17 years. Yet that only required the efforts of a single man for less than two decades. In contrast, Utah’s accomplishments represent a high level of excellence achieved through the combined efforts of hundreds of elite athletes which has been sustained for more than four decades.

Photo courtesy Utah Athletics
Coach Tom Farden and Kassandra Lopez | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

One might label the Red Rocks as the Energizer Bunnies of not just women’s gymnastics, but all of collegiate sports. It is noteworthy that the Energizer Bunny first made its appearance in 1989, meaning that Utah’s gymnastics dynasty predates the Energizer Bunny by more than a decade, yet the Red Rocks just keep going, and going, and going.

Utah’s U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch may be the closest comparison to Utah’s gymnastics program having held his congressional seat since 1976 (the same year the Red Rocks made their first appearance at nationals). Nevertheless, Hatch has only had to sit for election seven times, and in between elections, he is hardly seen in Utah (spending the overwhelming majority of his time on the other side of the country on Capitol Hill), whereas the Red Rocks have consistently proven themselves meet after meet, year after year, embracing their role as the darlings of The Hill right here in Utah.

Over the course of the current season, the Red Rocks had only lost two meets, finishing second to UCLA both times (losing at Pauley Pavilion 197.075 to 197.100 in the regular season, and coming up short at the recent Pac-12 Championship with 196.925 points while UCLA won with 197.250 points). Nevertheless, Utah was awarded the top seed at regionals, and UCLA was seeded second.

Coach Megan Marsden and the Red Rocks. | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics
Coach Megan Marsden and the Red Rocks. | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

Ironically, two falls on beam by Utah gymnasts cost the Red Rocks a victory at the Pac-12 Championship, while a fall off the bars by one Bruin gymnast and two near falls by a second Bruin gymnast put the regional title well beyond UCLA’s grasp. Utah outpaced UCLA 197.125 to 196.375 to win the regional title. In fact, when the scores of the Red Rocks’ three competitions with the Bruins are combined, Utah comes out on top 591.125 to 590.725.

Senior Breanna Hughes paced the Red Rocks throughout the evening as Hughes was the all-around champion. Fellow senior Kailah Delaney was also awarded a piece of the vault title as she tied for the top score.

Next up for the Red Rocks is yet another appearance at nationals, this time in Fort Worth, Tex., the weekend of April 15-16.

Here’s hoping that history repeats itself and Utah’s mountain of gymnastics hardware only grows larger.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

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