Bleeding Red: Utah gymnastics continues to (Red) Rock the nation

A new Huntsman Center record now stands
A testament to Utah’s rabid fans
Although many teams on The Hill do play
It was the Red Rocks who carried the day.

COMMENTARY — Although the Red Rocks have been consistently raising the bar for women’s gymnastics (and collegiate sports in general) for four decades, the bar was raised even higher last week. More than 16,000 people packed the house to watch Utah’s last home meet against Michigan, and even more fans were turned away at the door (but given free general admission tickets to the Pac-12 Championships in two weeks).

The 16,019 attendance record stands not only as a Huntsman Center record, but it is also a new record for any NCAA gymnastics meet (Utah also held the previous record of 15,558). The Red Rocks had an average attendance of 14,950 for its home meets this season, making Utah gymnastics the highest-attended women’s sport for the third consecutive year (and the fifth such title for the Red Rocks in the last six years). In the last 32 years, Utah has had the highest attendance for gymnastics in 29 of those years (with near-misses in the other three years).

Let me try and put that in perspective in comparison to the nationally-ranked Runnin’ Utes basketball team. The recent and much anticipated showdown between Utah and Arizona drew a total crowd of 15,165 — which was the attendance high-water mark for the season. The all-time record for a Runnin’ Utes basketball game was 15,755 in 1993 against BYU. This season, the Runnin’ Utes’ average home attendance has been 12,101. It is true that pre-conference games against small schools are not much of a draw, but the average home attendance for Pac-12 games was still only 13,650.

utesI don’t mean to take anything away from the beloved basketball teams (both men and women). I just want to highlight how much the Red Rocks have endeared themselves to their own fans. Such a following is simply unprecedented in gymnastics and is hard to come by in collegiate sports in general. In fact, last season only 18 Division I men’s basketball teams had an average home attendance that was higher than the Red Rocks.

Utah did not disappoint the record number of fans last Friday. The Red Rocks dispatched the Wolverines with a score of 198.250, their high score for the season and the third-best score in school history.

Three of Utah’s four graduating seniors swept the top three spots in the all-around, with Georgia Dabritz taking top honors, followed by Tory Wilson and Corrie Lothrop. The highlight of the meet was Dabritz’s perfect 10.0 on the bars (her second on bars this season, and fifth on bars for her career), which brought the capacity crowd to its feet with a deafening roar. The fourth senior, Becky Tutka, holds the Utah all-time record for consecutive routines hit after never recording a fall in her four seasons as a Ute.

"Utah gymnastics meet" by Scott Catron - originally posted to Flickr as Jon M. Huntsman Center - gymnastics meet.
“Utah gymnastics meet” by Scott Catron – originally posted to Flickr as Jon M. Huntsman Center – gymnastics meet.

While I could go on and on about each and every talented lady on the squad, one of my personal favorites is Baely Rowe, and her tribute to Michael Jackson as she moon walks on the beam while gracefully fingering the edge of an imaginary fedora.

With tickets ranging in price from seven dollars for the upper bowl to 30 bucks for the first 10 rows, this is hands down the best bang per buck available anywhere from a pure entertainment standpoint.

The success of Utah’s tumblers has attracted national attention. The New York Times came calling a few weeks back for the home meet against Stanford, which led to a visit by CBS for senior night last Friday. “They are so surprised and wonder why they didn’t hear about our fans, this atmosphere and the great gymnastics before,” explains head coach Greg Marsden. “It has kind of been our little secret and now the whole world is finding out.”

The Red Rocks finish out the regular season this week with a road meet against perennial powerhouse Georgia. Utah then returns to the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center the following weekend for the Pac-12 Championships on Saturday, March 21. I can’t wait to see if the recently established record falls to another capacity-plus crowd as the Red Rocks ramp up for a legitimate shot at yet another national title.

Speaking of titles, the Runnin’ Utes let a shot at the Pac-12 regular season title slip through their fingers with costly losses to Oregon and Arizona, and an anti-climactic season ending loss to Washington. However, Utah still has a chance to win the Pac-12 Tournament this coming weekend in Las Vegas.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak at Monday's press conference, Salt lake City, Utah, March 9, 2015. | Photo by Dwayne Vance, St. George News
Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak at Monday’s press conference, Salt lake City, Utah, March 9, 2015. | Photo by Dwayne Vance, St. George News

Notwithstanding solid senior leadership from Delon Wright and Dallin Bachynski, overall this is still a young team with a lot of newcomers. The grind of the college season has taken its toll. The challenge for head coach Larry Krystkowiak heading into the conference tournament will be to motivate and energize his players into peak performances this weekend, even though they have already punched their ticket to the Big Dance and the only mystery remaining is the seed they will be awarded.

“It’s quite simple, I mean we either respond to what it is I’m going to be talking about to them today, or we don’t,” he said Monday. “I think we’ll see the best out of our guys. We’re not going to be defined on the last five games of conference. There’s, hopefully, some games left and that’s how we’ll be defined.”

I’m just hoping that the Runnin’ Utes leave their funeral blacks at home (in which they are 0-4 on the road), and instead rock their red road threads whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Here’s hoping the Red Rocks continue to light up arenas like fireworks on the Fourth of July, and the Runnin’ Utes get back on track for a strong performance in the Pac-12 Tournament this weekend.

Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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