CEDAR CITY, Utah — The No. 7 Utah gymnastics team showed its mettle in a 196.725-195.600 win over Southern Utah before a near-capacity crowd of 4,873 in the Centrum Arena.
The front row of enthusiastic fans was virtually at floor level — nearly abutting the bar and floor apparatus. Adding to the difficult environment, three-event senior Kailah Delaney tweaked her knee during pre-meet warm-ups, forcing Utah coaches Tom Farden and Megan Marsden to make replacements even as the team was preparing for the march-in.
But the way the Utes started the meet, you'd have thought they were home in the Huntsman Center. In a spectacular showing off smooth release moves, perfect handstands, high-flying dismounts and rock solid landings, Utah made a statement start on bars. Looking every bit like the nation's No. 1-ranked bar team, which they were entering the meet, the Utes led 49.475-48.925 after one rotation.
Leading the way on bars were Kassandra Lopez and Breanna Hughes with back-to-back 9.925 routines in the middle of the lineup. The score was a career high for both seniors. Sandwiching Lopez and Hughes' scores were 9.875 routines from Sabrina Schwab, Baely Rowe and Tiffani Lewis.
Though the scores were lower on the next event, Utah's vault set was also impressive. Hughes won her second event title of the night with another career best — this time a 9.90. Tiffani Lewis added a 9.85.
"We came out firing on bars and vault, Farden said. "On floor, we're still not sticking some landings and some of our beam routines were not as aggressive as we'd like, but overall it was a good step forward. We are moving in the right direction and handled the hostile environment like champions."
While never truly threatened during the meet — Utah's lead grew to a point and a third after two events and stayed steady for the last two — there were some hiccups on both floor and beam. Hughes had her third career high in as many routines — scoring a 9.875 to lead off the floor set, and Schwab followed with a 9.85. But at the end of the lineup, Kari Lee fell on her finishing double back for the second-straight week and Lewis was docked after stumbling out of the same element.
Beam was also a bit of a mixed bag. Samantha Partyka was spectacular in her career-high 9.90 routine and tied for first on the event with Kari Lee, who scored a 9.90 from the No. 4 position. But after Lee's big routine, Baely Rowe fell on her mount, which along with some high-scoring floor routines from SUU, put pressure on closer Maddy Stover. No worries. Stover scored a 9.85 to seal the win.
"Samantha and Kari were poetry on the balance beam, Farden said. They floated up there."
With the win coming on the wings of a season-high 196.725 score, Utah improved to 2-0. Up next is the first home matinee in school history for Utah, which opens Pac-12 play against Oregon State at 3 p.m. next Saturday.
Liz Abel is the senior associate A.D. for communications at the University of Utah.