A SEASON TO REMEMBER

By Andrew Thompson Landerghini; Photo: Jim Urquhart/The New York Times

When fans look back on Utah Gymnastics years from now, 2015 will not be forgotten. It was a year where four amazing seniors led the Red Rocks to another Pac-12 championship and came tantalizingly close to the program’s 11th national title. It was a year where the national media turned its attention to the perennially packed Huntsman Center. It was a year where Utah won an NCAA individual championship for the first time since 2007. And, it was the final year of coach Greg Marsden’s legendary 40-year career.

The Red Rocks started off strong posting their highest season-opening score since 2005 in a win over BYU in Provo. They then breezed through the Pac-12 schedule, going 5-0 in conference competition, including an unforgettable sequence where Tory Wilson and Georgia Dabritz recorded back-to-back perfect 10.0s on the vault versus Arizona State at the Huntsman Center.

The Huntsman Center was rocking on March 6 when No. 5 Michigan visited Salt Lake City for Senior Night. Also in town was the national CBS This Morning crew reporting on the crowd-pleasing phenomenon that is Utah Gymnastics. Seniors Dabritz, Wilson, Corrie Lothrop and Becky Tutka did not disappoint, and neither did the Red Rocks faithful. Utah recorded its third-highest score ever, as well as the highest mark of any team for the entire season, and defeated the Wolverines, 198.25-197.65. The performance was seen by the largest crowd to ever attend an NCAA women’s gymnastics meet—16,019. The average home attendance of 14,950 was also a record.

While victorious, the Red Rocks suffered a major loss at the Pac-12 Championships. Wilson, the 2014 Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year, ruptured her Achilles tendon during her floor routine in the final rotation of the evening. Utah recovered to win its second-straight conference title, and its third in four years, but Wilson would be lost for the season.

With a second-place score in the NCAA Regionals, Utah Gymnastics punched its ticket for the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, its 40th-straight nationals appearance (another record). In Texas, the 12-seeded Red Rocks won their semifinals meet, earning a spot in the Super Six for the first time since 2012. There, the Red Rocks performed superbly, highlighted by Dabritz’s second-straight 10.0 on the uneven bars (she also had a perfect score in the semifinals the night before). The championship came down to the final routine between Florida and Utah, with the Gators needing a 9.90 on the uneven bars to clinch a tie for first. Florida’s Alex McMurtry responded with a 9.95 and the Gators squeaked past the Red Rocks, 197.850-197.800. It was Utah’s highest score ever in the NCAA Championships.

The Sunday of the NCAA Championships was devoted to individual routines and Dabritz continued her dominance on the uneven bars, winning the national title with a 9.9625. It was the first individual championship for a Utah gymnast since Ashley Postell’s 2007 title on the balance beam.

After the whirlwind weekend, coach Marsden announced on Monday that he would be stepping down as head coach after 40 years of leading the program. He retires as the winningest NCAA women’s gymnastics coach, notching more than 1,000 victories. His legacy also includes 40 trips to the national championships, with 29 top-five finishes, 19 top-two finishes and 10 national titles. He coached 367 All-Americans, who compiled 25 individual event titles. And, most importantly, his teams always made academics a priority, regularly placing near the top when it came to cumulative GPA among its peers.

The future is still bright for Utah Gymnastics as Marsden’s wife, Megan, a former Utah gymnast and the Red Rocks co-head coach for the last six years, will be joined by assistant Tom Farden as co-head coach. The University of Utah will continue to be a destination for the nation’s top gymnastics student-athletes, who wish to perform in front of the most electric crowd in women’s sports. And the chant heard at each home meet will continue to ring true:

Who rocks the house?
The Utes rock the house
And when the Utes rock the house
They rock it all the way down!