1 of 2
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Alexia Burch, right, cheers on a teammate during the Utah gymnastics Red Rocks Preview at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017. Burch, one of three freshmen on this year's squad, made her debut last weekend in the Elevate the Stage event in Reno, Nevada.

SALT LAKE CITY — The No. 2 Red Rocks may have suffered their first setback of the season last Sunday at the Elevate the Stage meet in Reno, Nevada, where they finished a close second to the No. 4 UCLA Bruins, but as far as they are concerned that is the least important thing to be gleaned from the event.

“We were really pleased,” co-head coach Megan Marsden said. “We had a meet where we went 24-24, the girls hit their routines. They got used to a podium, that was the reason we did this, and the girls really managed that well.”

“For the second meet of the season I thought we did really good, especially with it being on podium,” added junior All-American MaKenna Merrell-Giles. “That definitely added a degree of difficulty, but I thought the team held their composure and was super mature about competing on podium. We treated it like any other meet.”

No one was more comfortable on podium than Utah superstar MyKayla Skinner. Skinner won the all-around competition, not to mention placing first on vault, bars and floor. Her floor routine was particularly impressive, with many believing it deserved a perfect 10 (Skinner ended up with a 9.975).

“I was just really proud of what I did with the meet,” said Skinner. “Especially having been sick the week before, I had my endurance back.”

Aside from the competition itself, Sunday was also a homecoming for one particular Red Rock: freshman Alexia “Lexi” Burch.

A native of Sparks, Nevada, located just east of Reno, Burch was able to make her first appearance for the Utes, on exhibition at least.

“I am so glad that Lexi’s ankle injury was mild and timewise it worked for us to get her out there,” said Marsden. (Burch did not participate in the season opener against BYU due to the injury). “I am just really glad that if in her career that is the only time we are ever in Reno, she was able to be out there in front of some of her old teammates, coaches, friends and family.”

Burch is one of three freshmen on the Utah roster this season, along with Sydney Soloski and recently arrived Skyline alum Lauren Wong.

While Soloski has been the only one of the trio to compete competitively this year, the Canadian has performed twice on floor and the freshmen are already making a mark.

“I think things are going really well with our freshmen,” said Marsden. “Little Sydney continues to be really impressive on floor exercise and she’s got more to show eventually. It is just taking her a while to come along on some of the other events.”

As for Wong, who graduated early and joined the team a week ago, Marsden said, "Talk about a whirlwind. I told (Lauren) and her parents over the weekend that I’m just so impressed with how well she is taking it in stride with so many balls being thrown at her. The team is helping and we (coaches) are helping but it also her personality. She is being really upbeat and positive.”

According to Marsden, all three freshmen will likely perform, if only on exhibition, Friday night when the Utes host No. 25 Oregon State.

The Beavers come into the meet, which is Utah’s official conference opener, boasting a top-25 ranking. OSU defeated Pittsburgh 194.8500-194.1250 last weekend, with sophomore Sabrina Gill tying for the all-around win with a 38.925. The meet marked the first four-event outing of Gill’s career.

Dani Dessaints is the lone Oregon State All-American, as the Beavers returned just nine of 24 routines from last season’s team. Only nine of the 19 gymnasts on the roster had competed in a meet for Oregon State heading into the season, making OSU one of the more inexperienced teams in the Pac-12.

What with Utah’s 67-10-1 (33-0 at home) all-time record against Oregon State, Friday’s meet appears to be the ideal opportunity for Red Rocks to perfect their craft, especially on beam, where they have struggled the most this season.

“We can definitely prove ourselves and keep going forward from there,” said Skinner. “We had a little bit of a rough (time) on beam (Sunday). We weren’t the perfect start that we can be and I hope we can show that this weekend.”

Red Rocks on the air


No. 25 Oregon State (194.85)

at No. 2 Utah (196.988)*

Friday, 7 p.m. MDT

Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, UT

TV: Pac-12 Network/Pac-12 Oregon/Pac-12 Mountain

Radio: ESPN 700

Online live scores: UtahUtes.com

* Teams are ranked by season average scores until six meets have been completed. Rankings are then based on the RQS (Regional Qualifying score) system. The RQS is calculated by taking a team's top six regular-season meet scores (three of which must be on the road), removing the highest overall score and then taking the average of the remaining five scores.