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Gymnastics hits road to difficult NCAA regional

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Rebecca Noble | The Daily Wildcat

The Arizona gymnastics team waits for results at the end of Arizona's 196.850-196.850 tie with Denver in McKale Center on March 14. Arizona plays in its 29th consecutive NCAA regional action over the weekend.

The No. 18 Arizona gymnastics team will travel to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the Columbus NCAA Regional on Saturday. 

The road past the regional will be a difficult one for the GymCats as they will compete against No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 UCLA, No. 21 Central Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio State. 

“We’re not afraid of anyone,” Arizona coach Bill Ryden said. “The thing is, we have been everywhere; we’ve been in front of huge crowds, overcome adversity; we’ve lost top point scorers, and they have always come out with a smile and working their hardest. There’s no guarantee of the result, but I can guarantee their effort.”

The event marks what could possibly be the seniors’ final competition in Wildcat uniforms. But what means even more to the program as a whole is the fact that it is appearing in its 29th consecutive regional.

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“It’s a huge eye opener for the program to let everybody know that, consistently, over the years, we have been able to go to regionals,” Arizona gymnast Shay Fox said. “We’re just ready to go to Ohio and be against those teams and kind of prove ourselves.” 

The goal is to make it to Nationals, but first, the Wildcats have to get by some of the country’s best teams in Michigan and UCLA. 

Luckily for the Wildcats, Ryden has been in this position many times before — 17 to be exact. 

“Our biggest thing was the health and getting them enough rest,” Ryden said on this week’s Ryden Show. “The team — I couldn’t be more confident in how they are competing and what they will do. The reality is the team is prepared. We’re just looking forward to the competition.”

But this will not be UCLA coach Valorie Kondos, Central Michigan coach Jerry Reighard or Michigan coach Bev Plocki’s first rodeo either. Both Kondos and Plocki have been at the head of their programs for the past 25 years, while Reighard has been the head of the Chippewas for the past 29 years. 

The Wildcats’ rotation will begin on the balance beam, followed by a bye, floor, vault and another bye, and will conclude with the uneven bars. 

“I’m most excited to see this team compete,” Ryden said. “This year has really been a great year for a lot of reasons when you think of all the struggles and obstacles the team has overcome. The team is ready to compete and certainly is not going to be awed or intimidated in any way.”

Senior Allie Flores still believes that this team has the ability to go all the way, despite being unable to compete after suffering a season-ending injury. 

“I think the biggest thing this team has is chemistry,” Flores said on the Ryden Show. “We [mesh] really well and really get along with each other and have gone through so much this summer, through preseason. We’re working towards the same things, and I think that chemistry and all of that is really important, and it’s going to take us all the way.”

Ryden had one last motto for his team before they compete: “This team is far from done.”

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