It was a strong start, a good start. We laid a good baseline and we can keeping building from today. —Utah junior MaKenna Merrell-Giles
SALT LAKE CITY — Coming into Friday night’s season-opening meet with the rival BYU Cougars, the Red Rocks were feeling good, particularly junior All-American Kari Lee. Afer all, offseason training had gone well and she was, for the most part, healthy.
“I feel great,” Lee said following December’s Red Rocks Preview. “Coming into the preseason I just kind of had the mentality to go with the flow. Hopefully I can stay healthy for the whole season.”
That hope was short-lived, as Lee pulled up lame with cramps in her calf prior to the Deseret Duel Rivalry.
“When we were warming up Kari’s gait was a little different on vault,” co-head coach Tom Farden said. “Cramping wouldn’t allow her to drive on the floor and vault and we didn’t want to chance it becoming a muscle tear.”
As a result, the coaching staff pulled Lee out of the running for the all-around competition, limiting her to just bars and beam.
It turned out the Red Rocks didn’t need much in the way of production from Lee, as they went on to soundly defeat the Cougars 197.000-194.275.
Sophomore MyKayla Skinner and junior MaKenna Merrell-Giles led the way, tying for the evening's all-around title with final scores of 39.475. Senior Tiffani Lewis had herself an impressive showing as well, tallying scores of 9.900 on vault and floor, as well as a 9.850 on bars.
As for Lee, she was no slouch in the two events she did compete in recording a 9.850 on both the bars and beam.
“It was a strong start, a good start,” said Merrell-Giles. “We laid a good baseline and we can keeping building from today.”
“I can’t complain,” a clearly pleased Lewis opined. “The best part of today is it went exactly the way we have been practicing. I wasn’t surprised by really anything that happened.”
The Cougars were led by sophomore Shannon Hortman Evans, who finished third in the all-around competition with a score of 38.900. Junior Jill van Mierlo finished fifth in the all-around with 38.275 points, while seniors Mackenzie Douglas and Kyleigh Greenlief shined on vault and floor, respectively.
“It was nice to have our first meet against BYU,” said Skinner. “They looked pretty good tonight, but we were relaxed, calm and were able to be ourselves. We had a great mindsight and went and got the job done.”
The meet started with a surprise vault by Ute junior Macey Roberts, who filled in for Lee on the event. With nary any notice, Roberts managed to record a 9.75 to kick off the evening's proceedings at the Huntsman Center.
“I trust Macey,” said Farden “We know Macey. She has been on our team for two years.”
From that point on it was all Red Rocks, as they gymnasts racked up scores of 49.325 on both the vault and bars, compared to BYU’s 48.775 on vault and 47.900 on bars.
“It was a fitting start. We needed to start off strong and show that our confidence was there and I felt the first two events we had really good rhythm.”
The beam was another story altogether, as the Utes struggled with Shannon McNatt missing an element in her routine and Missy Reinstadtler falling.
“Some of the things they did on beam were a little uncharacteristic,” said Farden. “They second-guessed themselves a little bit. Sometimes though, you just have to get that first beam routine (of the season) under your belt and just move on.”
The Red Rocks did just that, with Lewis nailing her leadoff floor routine.
“Tiffani has a dynamite floor routine this year,” said Farden. “It really fits her well. Her tumbling passes (tonight) were about as good as her passes in 2016 when she won (the Pac-12 floor title). I am super pleased.”
It only got better from there for Utah as Roberts, Reinstadtler, freshman Sydney Soloski, Merrell-Giles and Skinner each followed with excellent routines of their own.
Soloski, the replacement for Lee, was particularly impressive in her first meet as a Ute.
“It was amazing,” Lewis said of Soloski’s performance. “She has worked so hard and she just gave me goosebumps.”
“I knew Sidney was going to be able to do that floor routine,” added Farden.
Other notable Red Rock performances included Kim Tessen on vault, Skinner on bars and Merrell-Giles on floor.
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