SALT LAKE CITY — When the Red Rocks and Cougars take the floor opposite one another at the Marriott Center Friday night in Provo, in the latest matchup of Deseret First Duel, it’ll mark the 100th meeting between the rivals.
Utah has dominated the series, winning 97 of 99 meets, including 39 straight since BYU last won in 1998.
The Utes defeated the Cougars twice last season alone, once in the regular season at the Huntsman Center and again during regionals.
And yet, even with the Red Rocks’ dominance, a rivalry remains.
“If you take gymnastics out of it we are always rivals with that school,” Utah senior and Pleasant Grove native MaKenna Merrell-Giles said. “It is a little bit more fun than an ordinary meet.”
“Whenever it is BYU versus Utah in anything it is pretty hyped up and exciting,” junior Kim Tessen, a native of Orem, added.
“It is a little different,” junior MyKayla Skinner said.
There are plenty of reasons for that.
Proximity is one.
“I will tell you what we like about this meet,” Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden said. “It is a road meet, but it is only an hour away. It is an easy road meet on our girls. We don’t have to fly on a plane and stay in a hotel, yet we do go on the road and all of our fans can come.
“We like to provide one more opportunity to our great fan base to see our girls and when you go just an hour away a lot of them can take advantage of that.”
There are also relationships that exist between the programs.
BYU boasts 10 gymnasts from the Beehive State, many of whom were on the same club team as Merrell-Giles, Tessen and freshman Hunter Dula.
“For me it is exciting being a local,” said Tessen. “I have a lot of former club teammates so it is fun to see them.”
And of course, there are bragging rights, respective Ute and Cougar pride.
“They have the cougar on the floor and my favorite part (of competing in the Marriott Center) actually was when Tiffani (Lewis) finished her floor routine,” Skinner said, reminiscing on her prior Marriott Center appearance as a freshman. “She stomped on the cougar at the end of the routine and I hope that there is somebody on this team that can do that, show our Ute pride.”
Once the gymnastics start, however, the rivalry goes out the window.
“When we actually compete it is the same as any meet,” Merrell-Giles said.
The Red Rocks are led by Skinner, who is a two-time NCAA national champion, this week’s Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week and ranked No. 2 in the country in the all-around.
Along with Merrell-Giles, Tessen, Cristal Isa and more, the Utes convincingly defeated Penn State in their season-opener.
“Utah is a great team,” BYU head coach Guard Young said. “They competed last weekend and put up a great score. We know that they are national contenders year end and year out.”
As for the Cougars, BYU is led by junior Shannon Evans, an NCAA All-American on uneven bars.5 comments on this story
This year’s Cougars team is young, BYU welcomed 11 freshmen to the fold this season, but the team is optimistic heading into their season-opener.
“We came back right after Christmas and I couldn't be prouder of their preparation and hard work,” Young said. “They are ready physically, mentally and emotionally, so now it is time to go out and show everyone how hard they've worked.”
On the air
No. 3 Utah (1-0) at BYU (0-0)
Friday, 7 p.m. MDT
Marriott Center, Provo