We hit our high for the season with our team score, which is always a plus. —Utah's MaKenna Merrell-Giles
SALT LAKE CITY — Through the first two weeks of the season, with team scores of 197.000 and 196.975, the Red Rocks had established themselves as one of the finest gymnastics teams in the country. A No. 2 national ranking over back-to-back weeks attested to that fact.
Friday night’s meet, the PAC-12 opener against Oregon State, offered the Utes the chance to build on their hot start, as well as correct some of the early season miscues that had plagued the team. Beyond that, the meet held the tantalizing promise that Utah might claim the moniker of best team in the country.
With the Huntsman Center filled almost to capacity (total attendance was 14,915) the Red Rocks did not disappoint, racking up their best final score of the season in the 197.450-196.300 victory over the Beavers.
Per the usual, MyKayla Skinner was out ahead of the pack, winning the all-around title with her best score of the season, a 39.725. The sophomore set new season-bests on bars and beam, with a 9.975 and 9.925, respectively.
MaKenna Merrell-Giles was close behind, finishing second in the all-around with a 39.600. The junior's highlight of the night came on vault, where she tied with Skinner for the highest score with a 9.950.
Orem native Kim Tessen was a standout as well, recording a 9.850 on bars and a 9.900 on vault.
Not to be forgotten, senior Tiffani Lewis and freshman Sydney Soloski each set a new season-high, on floor exercise.
The evening was, for all intents and purposes, a rousing success for the Red Rocks.
“We hit our high for the season with our team score, which is always a plus,” said Merrell-Giles.
And yet, it was clear that Utah left points on the events, much to the chagrin of the gymnasts and coaches.
“Tonight was a little bit of a bookend,” co-head coach Tom Farden said. “We started out really fast on vault. It was a hot start. On bars and beam, we didn’t work with the confidence I was looking for. They weren’t being as aggressive as I wanted them to be.”
“We lived through it,” Farden continued, “but it was a bookend of a meet. The first and last events were pretty strong. The middle two, not so much.”
“We had a couple of mistakes on the intricate events, bars and beam,” added junior Kari Lee, “but I think we pulled through on the vault and floor, the power events.”
Vault and floor have been by far the strongest events for Utah this season and Friday was no different. The Utes tallied a 49.475 on vault and a 49.550 on floor. Three Red Rocks (Tessen, Merrell-Giles and Skinner) earned a 9.900 or above on vault, four (Lewis, Missy Reinstadtler, Soloski and Merrell-Giles) on floor.
Beam and bars were an entirely different story. Only Skinner managed to score a 9.900 or above on either beam and bars.
“Those events are just so rhythm based and intricate,” said Farden.
The struggles on bars were particularly surprising, highlighted by miscues by Lee and Reinstadtler.
“Kari and Missy just were off on bars,” said Farden. “They couldn’t get into their routines.”
As for the beam, it has been the Achilles heel for the Red Rocks this season and was once again their lowest scoring event.
And yet, the 49.200 they mustered on the apparatus was the highest score the Utes have managed on beam this season.
“By score, it was the highest score total of the year,” said Farden.
The score was made all the more impressive by the fact that the Red Rocks changed their lineup.
“(The coaches) switched beam lineup, so it was kind of nerve-wracking,” said Skinner. “I have never been last on beam before and I just wanted to go out there and do the best I could for the team.”
She did just that and her teammates picked up the slack on floor, where a miscue by Skinner earned her her lowest score (9.875) of the season.
“We had some misfires, no doubt about it,” said Farden, “but we have to look forward and see how good this team can be. We are ecstatic about that.”