Bleeding Red: Red Rocks at U second to none

I am a Utah man, sir, and for all of the teams I cheer
But the Red Rocks give me a reason to cheer year after year
I remember when McCunniff was the last name of Megan
Way back in the day when our President was Ronald Reagan
Like the Energizer Bunny these ladies just keep going
Piling up championships and accolades without slowing
And it’s not just on “The Hill” where the Red Rocks come out on top
When it comes to all women’s sports they are the cream of the crop
While the hiring of Greg Marsden caused no media melee
When he finally does retire it will be a sad day

COMMENTARY – What do southern Utah and the University of Utah have in common? They both boast some of the most notable Red Rocks to be found anywhere in the world.

For those of you who were expecting a football or basketball column, you are in for a real treat. In fact, this is a familiar story that Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden has heard time and time again.

“I hear this constantly, that people are really surprised,” he says. “A lot of times I hear that story from guys who are football or basketball fans who can’t imagine going to a gymnastics meet, but either their daughter or their wife or their girlfriend drags them kicking and screaming to a gymnastics meet and they fall in love with it and wind up being some of our biggest fans.”

Image of a full Huntsman Center during a University of Utah gymnastics meet in this undated file photo | Photo courtesy U of U Athletics Department

None of the ladies in my life had to drag me to my first gymnastics meet. I have been a huge fan since attending West Jordan High. I was there when the school first opened its doors. While we were pathetic in most sports, we took state in gymnastics the first year we opened, and remained dominant for years.

It certainly did not hurt that I graduated in 1984 when Mary Lou Retton captured not only my heart, but the heart of the world with her stunning Olympic gold medal winning performance.

Having the opportunity to cheer for Utah’s Red Rocks cemented my love for women’s gymnastics. And I am far from their only fan.

For 18 of the past 21 seasons, the Red Rocks have led the nation in attendance at gymnastics meets, with a 20-season average attendance of 11,293. In 2010, the Red Rocks set an NCAA record for the highest attendance of any women’s collegiate sport … ever.

And Utah fans are knowledgeable. Last year, during a timeout in a Runnin’ Utes basketball game, I overheard some male students breaking down the gymnastics meet from the night before. They even went so far as to argue amongst themselves about the propriety of a particular deduction on one of the routines.

Does such rabid fan support help the Red Rocks at home? Absolutely! “It can be very intimidating for the visiting team,” explains Coach Marsden. “That is one reason why teams like to come here, because they like to put themselves in that situation and feel that feeling that you are going to feel in the post-season, And there are relatively few places where you can get that.”

With apologies to Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and a host of other fine schools, if you want to see a single school dominate a sport, then you need look no further than the top of the hill on which the Huntsman Center is perched. The Red Rocks gymnastics team has been as dominant as any collegiate team in history – men’s or women’s.

While I could fill a book with notable stats and records, the following three stats amply demonstrate the dynasty the Red Rocks have become:

  • Since 1976, the first year Utah competed in gymnastics, it has been the only team to qualify to every National Championships – 37 consecutive years.
  • The Red Rocks have won a record 10 National Championships, placed in the top three 22 times, never finished lower than 10th (their first year competing) and have not finished lower than sixth in this century.
  • The Red Rocks own the longest regular season home win streak of any NCAA sport – 23 years (1979-2002) and 170 meets.

Eat your heart out Bear Bryant, Pat Summit and even John Wooden.

The sledding was considerably easier in the earlier years when competition was more sparse in the women’s gymnastics arena. “More and more universities are investing in the women’s gymnastics programs,” acknowledges Marsden. “As more and more of those teams become competitive with very enthusiastic staffs, just by definition, the recruiting becomes more competitive because there are more players now.”

Notwithstanding the stiffened competition from all sides, the fact that the Red Rocks have remained dominant is a testament to the legendary coaching job performed by Marsden and his wife Megan. Consider this: Over Greg Marsden’s 38-year tenure as the Red Rocks gymnastics coach, Utah has had seven head football coaches and six head basketball coaches (plus three acting or interim head coaches).

“We’ve consistently competed at the highest level,” Marsden said. “We haven’t won a championship in a number of years, but we’re always right there with a chance.”

Marsden is right, and notwithstanding the youth on his squad this year, the Red Rocks will be in the mix once again.

“I think we’re a very talented team, we’re a very young team, we have no seniors this year, which I can’t ever remember that being the case.” I’m glad he saved me the effort of having to research that – if he can’t remember another year with no seniors then that that is good enough for me.

“It may take us some time in the early part of the season to get comfortable with some new roles, but I think once we do that we are going to be a very competitive team,” concludes Marsden.

While Larry Krystkowiak has given Ute fans a reason to cheer for the Runnin’ Utes once again, they are not the only show on the hill during the winter, and haven’t been for quite some time. These talented ladies are elite athletes, and literally poetry in motion. Any real sports fan should appreciate what they can do. If you have not taken the opportunity to check them out for yourself, you are truly missing out.

  2012 Utah Gymnastics Schedule  
01/12/13 at UCLA Los Angeles 7:30 p.m. PT
01/19/13 vs. Oregon State, West Virginia, SUU Salt Lake City 7:00 p.m. MT
01/25/13 at Arizona Tucson, Ariz. 7:00 p.m. MT
02/01/13 vs. Arizona State Salt Lake City 7:00 p.m. MT
02/09/13 vs. California Salt Lake City, Utah 7:00 p.m. MT
02/15/13 at Washington Seattle 7:00 p.m. PT
02/23/13 vs. Stanford Salt Lake City 8:00 p.m. MT
03/01/13 at BYU, North Carolina Provo, Utah 7:00 p.m. MT
03/09/13 at Georgia Athens, Ga. 4:00 p.m. ET
03/16/13 vs. Florida Salt Lake City 6:00 p.m. MT
03/23/13 vs. Pac-12 Championships Corvallis, Ore. TBA
04/06/13 vs. NCAA Regional TBD TBA
04/19/13 vs. NCAA Championships Semis Los Angeles TBA
04/20/13 vs. NCAA Super Six Los Angeles TBA
04/21/13 vs. NCAA Event Finals Los Angeles TBA

Dwayne Vance is a sports commentator. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

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