SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The Utes gymnastics team still hasn’t won a national title since 1995, but this year’s team may have the best chance to get back atop the podium.

The Red Rocks, ranked 4th in the preseason polls, begin the 2022 season Friday night at the Maverik Center in the Best of Utah Meet along with BYU, Utah State and Southern Utah.

“We’re excited about this year’s squad,” said head coach Tom Farden. Obviously we returned the bulk of last year’s squad, 23 of 24 routines, and then we infused some very talented athletes so we’re really excited.”

The Utes finished in third place in 2021, and with veterans like Sydney Soloski and Alexia Burch back, the Utes have plenty of talent to get to the top.

“This team is really hungry and eager,” Soloski said. “We have 16 on our roster, which is the most we’ve ever had. We have some girls that are really just dialed in on 1, 2 or 3 events, maybe have a few all-arounders, but overall the vibe of the team is just really excited and eager to get out there.”

Having 16 gymnasts on the roster will mean competition for every spot in the lineup, which can only make the team stronger.

“I just think it makes our lineup better to have have more girls competing for those spots,” said Burch. “Because then everyone is striving to be better every day.”

“Even with the 16 very capable athletes, one of the things we’re trying to do this year is to build up that depth as much as possible and to use some strategy throughout the year with our lineup,” added Farden.

The Utes are brining in three highly decorated freshmen to go along with the experienced gymnasts. Grace McCallum helped Team USA win a silver medal in the Olympics this past summer, while Kara Eaker was an alternate on the team. Amelie Morgan helped Great Britain win a bronze medal in Tokyo. She is just hoping for a chance to compete.

“It is definitely difficult when you have 16 girls that are all very capable of doing every event,” Morgan said. “So it is definitely a challenge to make lineups. But it’s like what is the best for the team, so it will be amazing to make lineups. But if you don’t make it, it will be more motivation to work even harder to try to get into the lineup.”

With Cristal Isa, Maile O’Keefe and Abby Paulson also back from last year’s squad, depth will be the biggest strength of this year’s team.

“Motivation, determination, everything this team has, we have the capabilities to do it,” Burch said. “It’s just putting everyone’s routine together in one meet at one time.”

“It’s every coach’s dream to win a national championship and we’re very fortunate right now,” Farden said. “The athletes are healthy, happy and hungry. That is something that we want to strive for. That is our dream to return Utah to the very top of the podium.”