Senior Hayley Sanzotti and sophomore Madison Ward each collected an individual event title to help No. 23 Utah State take second place in the 2017 MRGC Championships with a 196.100 in front of 1,706 fans Saturday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.
The Aggies had already locked in their final team score after finishing with a 48.950 on vault and had to sweat it out while Southern Utah’s Virginia Brownsell wrapped up the meet with her floor routine.
The 19th-ranked Thunderbirds were making a charge to try and snatch second place away from Utah State as SUU had recorded three-straight 9.900s on floor, leading up to Brownsell’s closing performance. The 5-foot-4 senior needed just a 9.800 for the T-birds to overtake the Aggies, but she stepped out on her last place and was given one-tenth of a point deduction. As a result, Brownsell recorded a 9.750, and Southern Utah (8-5) finished with a 196.075 for third place.
“Watching the last floor routine, we were already done, so we had nothing else to do but watch them,” senior Keri Peel said. “We never hope bad events on anyone, but we worked super hard this meet and we were just hoping our hard work would pay off, and it did. That’s what we got to see in the last SUU routine.”
No. 11 Boise State (12-4) captured its third-consecutive MRGC championship with a 197.050, while BYU (5-12) placed fourth with a 194.675.
Utah State’s 196.100 was its third-highest total of the season. Furthermore, it was the best score the Aggies have ever produced in a conference championship meet, the fifth-best home score in school history and the ninth-best overall.
“It’s surreal,” Ward said. “We just came out and tried to do our best, but we didn’t think we would make history. It’s super fun to be a part of that, and to share that with these girls.”
Ward earned first-team all-MRGC honors on both vault and floor. She tied for first on floor with a career-high-tying 9.900, marking the sixth time this season she has reached that mark. Ward has now captured a team-leading 11 individual titles, including eight on floor.
“I was actually really calm before my floor routine,” said Ward, who was tabbed the MRGC Floor Specialist of the Year on Friday at the pre-championships banquet. “Usually, I get a little nervous, but I just felt calm and confident. It showed, so I was happy.”
Other Aggies to earn all-conference accolades on Saturday included freshman MaKayla Bullitt (first-team vault), freshman Elle Golison (first-team vault), Peel (first-team bars), senior Bailey McIntire (second-team beam) and Sanzotti (first-team beam).
Utah State opened the meet on bars. Peel led the Aggies (9-11) on the event with a career-high-tying 9.875 to tie for third.
“It means a lot,” Peel said of her meet. “It just shows how much the coaching staff has put into me and how much they’ve helped me improve over the years. It’s nice for them just to see it has all paid off and that I listened to everything they have said over the years.”
For the second rotation, the Aggies moved to beam, where they struggled in the last two meets heading into the MRGC Championships. USU had to count two falls in each of those meets, which ultimately was the difference between winning and losing.
But on Saturday, Utah State was rock solid on the event.
“I am so proud of the beam team,” said fourth-year USU head coach Nadalie Walsh. “We came back from those last two meets of not doing as well as they could and practiced all week in our arena. We expected perfection during those practices, they did it, and then they transferred it. I’m just so proud of them because they didn’t let two bad meets define them and today showed the true colors of the Aggie beam team.”
Utah State’s 49.125 on beam was its second-highest score of the season on the event, not to mention the best the Aggies have ever recorded in a conference championship meet. Furthermore, the score is tied for the ninth-best in program history.
Sanzotti, competing third in the lineup, led the way with a career-high-tying 9.900 as she tied for first on the event. McIntire tied for sixth with a 9.850.
“It was tough; I’m not going to lie,” Peel said of the beam. “We came off of a rough meet last weekend, so we had a lot of workouts this week. We went Sunday through Tuesday, and then Thursday through to this meet. We only had one day off this week and I think it really paid off in this meet.”
The Aggies competed on floor in the third rotation, where Ward’s 9.900 helped the team finish with a 49.025. McIntire pulled out her old floor routine for the championships and recorded a 9.850 to tie for seventh.
Utah State closed the meet on vault, where a trio of Aggies — Ward, Golison and Bullitt — tied for third with 9.800s. For Bullitt, she replaced McIntire in the lineup and went sixth for USU. The last-minute change did not bother the native of Garland, Texas, at all.
“I’m super proud of MaKayla and our coaches’ decision to put her in,” Ward said. “She really sealed the deal for us.”
Bullitt’s 9.800 was a career high. Why did Walsh replace a senior with a freshman?
“I actually spoke with Bailey and MaKayla during practice and said, ‘This is going to be the game plan,’” Walsh said. “The game plan was if everyone went 9.8, then Bailey would go. But, when we were watching Southern Utah on the floor, we knew they were a quarter-of-a-tenth to catching up, and it was all in. So, after Miranda (Hone) went and her score was flashed, we made the switch.
“I walked down and told MaKayla, ‘Hey, you’re going to go in, just don’t think about it.’ She did a great job and then it’s just a huge tribute to Bailey McIntire, as well, that she is about Utah State, and not about herself. I’m just really thankful that she could have such an awesome attitude about having a freshman step in and do the vault that was worth more.”
The Aggies will learn Monday where they are headed for the NCAA Regional Championships, which will be held on Saturday, April 1, at six different sites across the country, including Fayetteville, Arkansas; Gainesville, Florida; Champaign, Illinois; Lincoln, Nebraska; Seattle, Washington; and Morgantown, West Virginia.