Two rival top-five gymnastics programs, multiple Olympians and one meet in Salt Lake City on Saturday afternoon.
When No. 4 UCLA gymnastics (4-1, 3-0 Pac-12) takes on No. 5 Utah (5-1, 2-1), the major talking point will be the head-to-head matchup between the schools’ star freshmen Madison Kocian and MyKayla Skinner.
The Utes’ Skinner has won the all-around competition in each of their six meets. Her individual high score is 39.775, second overall in the country this season.
Kocian, on the other hand, emerged victorious in four of the Bruins’ five meets and has a personal best of 39.625 against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
Throughout their elite gymnastics careers, both suited up for the United States national teams along with fellow freshman Kyla Ross, adding more fuel to the competitive interest between them.
“I’ve competed against Skinner for eight years on national teams, so I know her pretty well,” Ross said. “She’s been really successful this year, so I’m excited to see her and compete against her.”
Skinner, however, does not factor into the UCLA game plan, nor does the entire Utah team.
“In our sport, there’s no offense and defense,” said coach Valorie Kondos Field. “We’re not going in there to necessarily beat the Utes. We’re going in there to score as high as we possibly can. If we do that, I believe we’ll beat the Utes.”
The main goal for the Bruins is to get through the quick turnaround – Saturday at Utah followed by a tri-meet at home Monday – with the team intact and prepared to face the regular season’s homestretch.
“We are midseason and our biggest job right now is keeping our athletes healthy,” Kondos Field said.
Stretching, rehab and making sure the gymnasts care for their bodies have been forefront concerns in ways that they hadn’t been leading up to prior meets.
The skills and routines, according to redshirt freshman Macy Toronjo, will not be concerns.
“We’ve really been concentrating on doing a lot of stretching and rehabbing and icing and making sure that our bodies are physically good because our gymnastics is there,” Toronjo said. “When you get to be this old in the sport of gymnastics, everything is pretty automatic. The best thing to do is stay healthy, and we’ve been doing that by concentrating on treatments and eating good, getting good sleep.”
This week, the team also focused on solidifying its depth.
Back-to-back meets require key players, such as Kocian, to be rested, and others to hop in and perform. Kondos Field plans on setting a lineup Monday complete with four or five new competitors on floor exercise.
“Knock on wood, we are deep in the areas we need to be deep in, especially on floor,” Kondos Field said. “It’s not ideal for gymnasts to have back-to-back meets, but that’s how the schedule worked out. Luckily, we have the personnel to be able to go out Saturday and Monday and compete really well.”
How the team lines up for the two meets is ultimately down to its approach against Utah, whether the Bruins go for broke or not.
“We’re going to get to Utah, and we’re going to want to put up our guns on every event,” Kondos Field said. “We want to make sure that’s wise for us to do, and we won’t know that until Saturday morning.”