Bleeding Red: It was a magical season in 2015 for Utah’s Red Rocks

When things are at a dizzying pace
The Red Rocks have both talent and grace
But what really sets these gals apart
Is the Red Rocks have plenty of heart

COMMENTARY — Back on Dec. 2, 1982, the University of Utah was the site of the very first permanent artificial heart implant. More than 32 years later, if you’re looking for heart, the University of Utah still has more than enough to go around. In a year of gutty performances in football and basketball, nobody has shown more heart than the Red Rocks.

utesThe last two months have been quite a roller coaster for these talented ladies, with lows and highs in both emotions and performances. It would take a novel to do justice to this tale, so keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times as we quickly (okay, relatively quickly) recap the Red Rocks’ recent trials and triumphs.

As the regular season ended, the Red Rocks were riding high. In their final home meet against Michigan, these lovely ladies were basking in the glow of a record-setting crowd. An astounding 16,019 fans packed the Huntsman Center (which only has 15,000 seats), and lots more were turned away at the door. The Red Rocks rode the emotion of senior night and the wondrous wave of crowd support to victory and a season-high score of 198.250 (the third best in school history).

Utah concluded the regular season on the road against Georgia. After a strong start on bars and vault, the Red Rocks faltered on the floor and beam opening the door for Georgia. “I have no idea what happened on floor,” lamented head coach Greg Marsden after the meet. “It’s been a great event for us all year, so I guess we’ll just write it off to a fluky night.”

The flukiest mistake came when Tory Wilson appeared to pull up short rather than perform her final tumbling pass to completion (which proved to be an ominous sign of what was yet to come). “Tory just tripped,” stated Marsden. “I told her afterwards that she’d given me another first — in 40 years, I’ve never seen that.”

The mistakes cost the Red Rocks an undefeated season. So how would these ladies react to such misfortune heading into the Pac-12 Championship?

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me,” Walt Disney once declared. “You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

Rather than hanging their heads after the defeat at Georgia, the Red Rocks took the Pac-12 Championship by storm with a final score of 198.150.

Injured Tori Wilson is carried off. | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics
Injured Tory Wilson is carried off. | Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

The win was bittersweet for Utah. Tory Wilson won the vault with a perfect 10.0, and scored 9.90 on bars and 9.875 on the beam. However, her last routine in front of the Huntsman Center home crowd proved to be the last routine of her career as she tore her Achilles tendon and suffered damage to the foot on her other leg during her floor routine. “I am devastated for Tory,” said Greg Marsden. He then said what happened to her was “every gymnast’s nightmare.”

But the Utah gymnastics team was undaunted.

“Give the (other seniors) credit,” Marsden said. “They went out and performed as well as they possibly could under those circumstances.”

The Pac-12 Champion Red Rocks were awarded the top seed at the NCAA Regionals in Berkeley. However, with the loss of Wilson, this simply was not the same team it was before.

The strongest steel is forged by endless pounding and molten fire. Diamonds are the product of intense heat and crushing pressure. “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records,” explained American writer William Arthur Ward.

The Red Rocks had a disastrous start to Regionals with season-lows in both bars and the beam, and were in danger of not qualifying for nationals for the first time in 40 years. Before returning to the floor for the last two routines, Marsden implored Utah to “come out and fight like the team I know you are.”

The Red Rocks rebounded on floor, but still trailed Cal for second place and a berth in nationals. However, Utah ended up punching its ticket to Nationals with a strong performance on vault.

The Red Rocks limped into nationals as the No. 12 seed. However, when churned by adversity, once again the cream rose to the top. Utah tied two-time defending NCAA Champion Florida for first place in their semifinal session, posting Utah’s best score ever at a National Championship, and advanced to the Super Six for the 19th time in school history.

Afterwards, Marsden was complimentary of the effort. “This team was very determined, especially after our performance at Regionals. We were fortunate just to slide in, coming in with the 12th best score of the 12 teams. Without Tory, our team went through some emotions and had a tough time getting back up for Regionals. We bounced back after Regionals in practice and I’m proud of our athletes for coming back from a difficult situation.”

Last Saturday, the Red Rocks came within half of a tenth of a point of winning their 11th National Championship. Even though Utah once again bested its best score ever at a National Championship with an impressive 197.800, the team narrowly finished second to Florida.

Georgia Dabritz
Georgia Dabritz

“I am so proud of our kids for fighting back and nailing those last three routines to make it so that Florida had to hit big on its final routine,” Marsden said after the meet. “I couldn’t ask more from this group of kids. They couldn’t have given any more. If you could have said at anytime this year — especially after we lost Tory Wilson to injury— that Utah would take Florida or even Oklahoma down to the final routine and finish .05 behind, no one would have believed it. The only thing that could have made it better was one more tenth of a point.”

The icing on the cake came yesterday as Georgia Dabritz won the uneven bar individual title. Dabritz was the first gymnast in NCAA history to post perfect 10s on the bars in both the semifinals and the Super Six team competition. She earned a 10.0 from two judges on Sunday, winning the title with a composite score of 9.9625. “It feels great to be able to end my career this way,” said Dabritz. “I just wanted to do one last bar routine for me and I couldn’t have asked for a better ending.” Dabritz also tied for fifth on floor.

As a preview of what Utah still has in the cupboard for years to come, freshman Kari Lee placed fifth on vault, and also competed in the individual championships on floor.

Here’s to the many and impressive accomplishments of the Red Rocks this season, and the many more I am sure are yet to come next year, and the year after that, and the year after that . . .

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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