Red Rocks Debut 2023 Team In Preview Meet

Dec 9, 2022, 11:01 PM
Utah's Abby Paulson reacts with teammates after performing on beam during a meet against the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion on February 23, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
(Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY- The Red Rocks will soon be flipping, leaping, turning and sticking landings at the Huntsman Center but until their season actually starts, fans will just have to live with the preview of what they can look forward to in 2023.

Utah gymnastics didn’t disappoint Friday night, even if there were no scores, and some routines were lightened up to keep the athletes safe till it’s actually show time. There is once again potential for this team to be among the elites in college gymnastics, but they will have to come out of the gates swinging.

The Red Rocks will open their 2023 campaign hosting the LSU Tigers on January 6. Their 2023 schedule also features a trip to Norman, Oklahoma to take on the reigning National Champion Sooners as well as competitions with rival UCLA and Georgia among other up-and-coming programs such as Cal, Oregon State and Arizona.

To be the best, you have to beat the best and it seems that is exactly what head coach Tom Farden and the Red Rocks are aiming to do in 2023.

What’s New With The 2023 Red Rocks?

Again, there was no scoring involved in Friday’s preview and each event had eight girls showing off routines instead of the six we’ll see come competition time.

One piece of Utah’s 2023 puzzle that was visibly missing from the lineups was super-senior Cristal Isa who watched from the sidelines in a boot. KSL Sports was told it’s nothing serious, just precautionary and that Isa is expected to be ready for the season.

What Isa sitting out did seem to help demonstrate is the Red Rocks’ continued effort in building depth. Newcomers such as Abby Brenner, a graduate transfer from Michigan, and freshman Makenna Smith look to be solid additions that could be seen in Utah’s lineups.

The Red Rocks also got some athletes back who were missing through parts of the 2022 season. Olympic backup Kara Eaker missed a big chunk of last season after suffering an injury in her first competition as a Ute. Jillian Hoffman was another athlete who was doing some amazing things for the Red Rocks on vault and floor last year before an injury ended her year.

“Bringing in Abby Brenner really helped with depth on her two strong events,” Farden said of the Red Rocks’ increased depth. “We got back Jill so that helps and then Kara is healthy and training all four events and that helps. Some of the growth was from within, some of it was bringing in people. Obviously, you guys saw what Kenna Smith can do and now you know why I was excited about her. She’s a superior athlete. We’re really deep and our biggest gains believe it or not was probably floor and bars.”

Dreamers And Innovators

One of the most remarkable aspects of Utah gymnastics is the brand and identity that’s been created and continually innovated over the last 45-plus years. It’s hard for any program to have a long history of winning and support, let alone a women’s team.

Now the Red Rocks have an opportunity to flex their muscle and lead the way in the new world of name, image, and likeness- an arena many feared could hurt women’s sports, but Utah feels they can lead the charge in showing it can actually be a help.

“It’s really cool to be able to inspire young girls and show them everything we can do with all of the opportunities we are given in sports now,” Olympian Grace McCallum said. “I think it’s an incredible experience and something you shouldn’t pass up on if you have the opportunity to do it.”

Maile O’Keefe was in agreement, specifically pointing out Who Rocks the House Collective as being one way the Red Rocks are trying to push boundaries and open doors for other female student-athletes in the NIL realm.

“We have the Who Rocks the House Collective which is like the first female-based toward one sport collective,” O’Keefe said. “It’s honestly super amazing and I think it’s really going to help us reach out to the community and do things that we love to do.”

Head coach Tom Farden noted how the Red Rocks are a rare find in women’s sports where there is support, branding and money behind it and just hopes he can continue to add to a proud legacy that’s already been built.

“It’s an anomaly and not many people- not many fan bases have that, not many women’s programs have that,” Farden said. “For me- I just literally want to chip in a few coins to the overall legacy. If I can chip a few dimes and nickels here and there in my tenure here at Utah- I just want to keep adding to it. I’m really proud of the legacy. I felt personally, as a coach, when I came here that it’s an honor. There are no other words to say. It’s an honor to work here and to be a part of this program. Then to be able to help carry the legacy on a little bit and chip in my change- it’s pretty cool. To see it generation, after generation, after generation to continue to happen- to see the alumni support and the past coaches’ support. It speaks volumes. It’s a culture.”


Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

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Red Rocks Debut 2023 Team In Preview Meet