The one thing I did appreciate this evening was as we went through the evening, we did build on the scores. —Utah co-head coach Tom Farden
PROVO — Utah gymnastics team expected a better start Friday night, not because its 196.9-194.175 victory over BYU was ever in question, but because bars is the Red Rocks' best event. It’s 49.125 fell short of last week’s 49.275 in Utah’s win over Michigan.
“I thought we could do a much better job on bars,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “They missed a lot of handstands — really tight, just didn’t swing like they normally do. I could tell they were a little nervous.”
Utah, ranked No. 5, has started slowly in both of its meets this season, something Farden admits his young team is still working on solving.
“I do think that’s the sign of a young team,” said Farden. “We’ve got signs of an emotionally strong team the way we handled the fall and some other mistakes in our meets, but we also have signs of a young team where they can’t come out of the gate and feel relaxed and confident. We’re going to work on that.”
What Utah did do was quickly erase the slow start with a 49.3 in the next rotation on vault. The score marked the best event effort Utah has had in its short two-meet season.
MaKenna Merrell and MyKayla Skinner led Utah on vault with 9.9s. The score was a career-best for Merrell, while it matched Skinner’s effort from last week.
“The one thing I did appreciate this evening was as we went through the evening, we did build on the scores,” noted Farden.
Speaking of bigger, Skinner did go bigger on floor in the next rotation. The Olympic alternate wowed the fans in a performance that garnered a 9.95 from both judges. The score marked Utah’s best individual mark of the year.
Skinner admitted the routine felt good but acknowledged she had a small hop after her first pass. That small hop likely cost the gymnast a perfect score, which fans were begging the judges for.
The floor set ended with Utah recording a season-best 49.275. The mark came despite a fall from Baely Rowe in the leadoff position. The fall was a rare mistake by the typically solid senior.
“One of best things we did this meet was if someone had a hiccup, they would throw it away, move on and finish the routine the best they could,” said junior Tiffani Lewis. “Then the next person up would jump on board and get us moving. I think that’s really important.”
Utah finished up its night strong on beam, though the judging appeared tight on the event for both teams. The Red Rocks sent six beamers up and all six beamers hit for a 49.2 score. Skinner led the way again with a 9.875, followed by 9.85s from Maddy Stover, Kari Lee and Rowe to close out the set.
Skinner, who ranked fourth nationally in the all-around entering Friday’s meet, topped her score from last week with a 39.6 to lead all gymnasts.
What is fun for Utah is that while Skinner is setting the bar, including sweeping the events Friday, Merrell and Sabrina Schwab aren’t far behind in the all-around. Schwab hit a season high 39.3 to follow up a 38.975 in the season opener. Merrell finished Friday at 39.25 and tied for the vault win with Skinner (9.9).
“I was a little more confident (tonight),” said Schwab. “I was very nervous last meet, still nervous this meet, but like I said, for me it’s just a numbers a game. The more you can go out and compete, the more you get the jitters out.”
Shannon Hortman led BYU in the loss. The freshman hit career bests in every event but beam. She finished with a 39.05 in the all-around. Overall, BYU had a good night on three events but was forced to count a fall on beam.
“You can’t win a meet by missing two beam routines so that’s what it comes down to,” said BYU coach Guard Young.
Young admitted overall the meet was fun, with 3,864 in attendance to cheer on the instate rivalry.