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Jeff Roberson, Associated Press
Utah's Tiffani Lewis competes on the uneven parallel bars during the NCAA women's gymnastics championships Friday, April 14, 2017, in St. Louis.
I bet most of the people didn't need the whole seat, they just should have bought half the seat because they were on the edge of their seat the whole time. —Utah co-head coach Tom Farden

ST. LOUIS — The Utah gymnastics team took ahold of its own fate Friday afternoon, putting up an outstanding beam set (49.3875) after falling into fifth place after the first two rotations in Friday’s NCAA semifinal.

That effort gave Utah the momentum it needed as the Red Rocks moved into third after the third rotation, and then held on with a strong floor set (49.4875) for the final spot to advance to the NCAA Super Six finals Saturday. Utah finished at 197.05, behind favorite Oklahoma (197.725) and UCLA (197.5).

The Sooners and Bruins battled with each other all night to stay atop the leaderboard. That left Utah, Washington, Denver and Oregon State clawing for the coveted final spot.

The Red Rocks found themselves in a hole early after slow starts on vault and bars.

“Starting on vault — we were a little tight, took some steps,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “I knew vault was going to be a tight judged event — that message was sent at regionals when regionals vaulting was judged like that. Bars, we were swinging a little tight again.

“I just grabbed them after bars and said, ‘look guys you’ve got 12 routines down and 12 to go, you’ve got to be yourselves a little bit more.’”

The pep talked worked, with captain Maddy Stover shaking off a bad warmup on beam and producing one of her best performances of the year to kickstart Utah’s comeback. MyKayla Skinner led the effort with a 9.9125, followed by MaKenna Merrell’s 9.9. In prepration for the championships, Utah had added a podium beam in its practice facility. It paid off Friday.

“We just got up there on beam and did what we do in practice,” said Merrell. "Then we knew we needed to have a great floor as well. Floor was so fun because it was right in front of our fans and we could flash the U at them.”

Skinner capped Utah’s afternoon with a 9.9625 on floor, which catapulted her (39.6125) ahead of UCLA’s Kyla Ross (39.575) for the session’s all-around win. The all-around battle was equally exciting with seven of the top 10 ranked all-arounders in the session.

“I bet most of the people didn’t need the whole seat — they just should have bought half the seat because they were on the edge of their seat the whole time,” said Farden about the competition.

“MyKayla deserves it. She’s worked so hard and had a great night out there.”

The Pac-12 finished with five of the top six all-arounders in the semifinal as UCLA’s Madison Kocian (39.55), Denver’s Maddie Karr (39.475), and Utah’s Baely Rowe (39.4) and Washington’s Hailey Burleson (39.4) rounded out the group. Oklahoma’s Maggie Nichols, who ranked No. 1 ahead of Skinner, fell in her beam attempt.

Skinner was Utah’s top scorer in every event, including a tie with teammate Rowe on bars (9.8375). Her vault effort (9.9) left her tied with three others for the session win, but her floor was really a highlight of the session.

“Being on floor was so fun — I loved every moment of it,” said Skinner. “That’s just my thing, so I got to go out and sell it, and do what I love most.”

UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field credited Skinner for taking floor “to such a wonderful level for all of us.”

Looking forward

The Super Six begins at 7 p.m. MDT and will be aired on ESPNU.

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“We are going to leave everything on the table tomorrow,” said Merrell. “It is our final meet of the season, and it’s great to be back in the Super Six.”

Utah missed the finals last year and is looking forward to returning. The Red Rocks may be without Kari Lee Saturday as the sophomore may have irritated her high ankle sprain that was already limiting her to bars when she landed her bars release Friday.

Farden said Shannon McNatt, who is already filling in brilliantly for Lee on beam, will likely be the sub if need be.