Bleeding Red: Red Rocks stepped up, Runnin’ Utes did not

Would they win or fall apart?
Moving up or down a spot?
Yes, the Red Rocks showed some heart
But the Runnin’ Utes did not

COMMENTARY – Utah faced Cal for the first time this season. With identical records heading into the match, the outcome would make a significant impact on each team’s position in the Pac-12 standings.

From the very beginning of the contest, the Utes were their own worst enemies. It’s difficult enough to beat a good team when you are playing well, but it is even more difficult when you are beating yourself. Halfway through the contest it remained to be seen which team would assert itself and claim the victory.

utesAm I talking about the Runnin’ Utes on the road in Berkeley? Perhaps, but no. I am talking about the Red Rocks hosting the Golden Bears on The Hill Saturday afternoon.

After establishing a narrow lead after the first rotation in which Utah was on vault and Cal was on bars, the wheels came off for the Red Rocks in the second rotation on bars as two of Utah’s last three gymnasts fell.  “I gave a stern lecture to the bar coach!” explained co-head coach Tom Farden (who coaches bars).

Quite frankly, the Red Rocks were lucky to be tied with the Bears after two rotations, rather than trailing them and trying to erase a deficit. With the score dead even, the meet would be decided in a two-rotation playoff —beam and floor.

“We gathered after the bars and I told (the gymnasts) they needed to be aggressive and determined on the beam and finish the meet strong,” Farden said.

Photo courtesy Utah Athletics

And finish strong they did! Baely Rowe epitomized Utah’s effort in the last two rotations. Rowe had fallen on the bars, and was noticeably upset when she picked herself up off of the mat. But the key was she did pick herself up and move forward with newfound determination. She proceeded to score 9.850 on the beam, and finished with a spectacular floor routine that brought the capacity crowd to its feet, earning her a career-high 9.925. That is precisely the type of leadership that this young squad needed to see from its sole senior.

Rather than crumbling under the pressure of intense competition, the Red Rocks not only survived, but thrived, finishing the meet off with a score of 49.450 on the floor, their best score of the season on any event. Utah beat Cal to stay undefeated and handed the Bears their first loss of the season. Even though the Red Rocks’ final score of 196.450 was their low score of the season, they were still able to fight through adversity and do what was necessary to claim the victory.

“I told our young team after the meet that I wanted them to feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable, because that’s the kind of pressure they will face in every round of the postseason.” Farden said.

Utah has already had more than its share of adversity this year. Two top performers have already been lost to season-ending injuries — last year’s Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Sabrina Schwabb and local Utah product Kim Tessen. Rather than making excuses, these Energizer Bunnies just keep on going and going and going.

Next up for the Red Rocks is a road meet at Oregon State on Saturday at 3 p.m., televised on the Pac-12 Network.

I wish the Runnin’ Utes could learn a thing or two about competition from the Red Rocks. Similar to the gymnastics squad, the men’s basketball team found itself in a tough battle with Cal. However, unlike the Red Rocks, not only did the Runnin’ Utes fall to the Bears but Utah followed up an unfortunate loss to Cal with a bad loss to Stanford (which notched just its fourth conference win of the year against Utah and was 11-11 overall going into the game).

After the loss to the Cardinal, head coach Larry Krystkowiak lamented, “I don’t know if it was our execution as much as we have some hard-headedness from guys who are going to go beat people by themselves.” He continued: “We don’t have that kind of team. We don’t have a star on our team. When we move the basketball and play for each other, some good things happen.”

If the Runnin’ Utes had won both games last week, they would have been tied with UCLA for third place in the Pac-12. Instead, Utah tumbled all the way to sixth place and an RPI of 77. To help put that in context, some of the teams with a better RPI than the Runnin’ Utes include 11-loss Stanford (66), 12-loss Vanderbilt (56), and 11-loss Pittsburgh (54).

Utah’s futility in its Bay Area road trip could very well have negative implications on its postseason aspirations. With seven games left to play in the regular season, including rematches with Oregon, Cal, and a surging Colorado team, it is unlikely the Runnin’ Utes will win out. Even if they did win out, they would still need help from teams ahead of them by losing multiple games in order for Utah to improve its seed going in to the Pac-12 Tournament the first weekend in March.

At this point, the only way the Runnin’ Utes can be assured of an invitation to the Big Dance is to win the Pac-12 Tournament outright. While that would be almost as amazing as the Patriots’ comeback win in Super Bowl LI, realistically it is highly unlikely. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to its current situation, and whether the players can show the heart they lacked last week in this week’s home games against Washington State and Washington.

Here’s hoping the Red Rock continue to lead by example on The Hill by exhibiting the heart of a true champion, and that such competitiveness will be contagious and catch on with the Runnin’ Utes as well.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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