Vault has always come naturally to me. I think I just have good fast twitch muscles. I am very quick and powerful. That really helps a lot. —Kim Tessen
SALT LAKE CITY — Heading into Friday night’s meet against the No. 17 Arizona State Sun Devils, the No. 2 Red Rocks season can be simply summarized by four numbers — one, two, three and nine.
Utah is currently the top-ranked team in the country on floor exercise. They are also the second-best team on vault, the third-best in the nation when it comes to the uneven bars and the ninth-highest scoring group on balance beam.
Leading the charge has been the dynamic duo of MyKayla Skinner and MaKenna Merrell-Giles, both of whom are top 10 gymnasts on multiple events.
Merrell-Giles currently stands as the second-best gymnast in America on floor and the fourth finest on vault, while Skinner comes in at No. 5 on vault and No. 7 on bars.
Interestingly enough, only one other Red Rock can claim a position as a top 10 gymnast on any single event.
The event is vault and the gymnast is Kim Tessen.
With her season average of 9.890, Tessen currently holds down the No. 8 spot in America. That would be surprising if not for the fact that she has excelled on vault from the moment she stepped onto the University of Utah campus.
As a freshman, Tessen competed in only three vaults before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury, but she still managed to score a 9.900 on the apparatus just weeks into her collegiate career.
This season, Tessen has been even better. The sophomore has scored a 9.900 or better on vault three times already, including a 9.900 against Oregon State, as well as her career-high of 9.950 last weekend against Washington.
“Vault has always come naturally to me,” said Tessen. “I think I just have good fast twitch muscles. I am very quick and powerful. That really helps a lot.”
RED ROCKS ON THE AIR
No. 17 Arizona State (195.85) at No. 2 Utah (197.335)
Friday, 7 p.m. MDT
Huntsman Center, Salt Lake City, UT
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700 AM
Online: Live scores: UtahUtes.com
The truth is, Tessen the gymnast isn’t much of a mystery.
Tessen the Utahn, however, is an entirely different matter.
While her hometown is Orem, her childhood home just up the hill from UVU, she is actually from China.
“I’m actually adopted,” said Tessen. “I’m from China. I was adopted when I was 15 months old. I’ve never been back but would really like to go back (someday).”
Beginnings aside, she grew up in Orem, that bastion of blue-blooded BYU fandom and with her mother a BYU grad, it was only natural that she cheer for the Cougars.
“My mom went to BYU and graduated from BYU so I kind of grew up a BYU fan,” said Tessen.
Secretly though, she always felt drawn to the U.
“As a gymnast, Utah gymnastics is big,” said Tessen. “Being able to be close enough to come to the meets, I would go all the time. The (meets) were/are glorified and so amazing looking. I always told myself, secretly, that I wanted to go to Utah, if I was good enough.”
At 13, Tessen started at All-American Gymnastics in Lindon, and it was there that she would meet and become fast friends with Merrell-Giles.
“We are pretty close,” said Tessen. “One of the factors of going to the U was I could be with Kenna again.”
“That was always my dream,” added Merrell-Giles. “She is my best friend and I wanted to stay with her.”
While it wasn’t always a certainty, Tessen committed to attend college elsewhere before she was approached by Utah, a fact that left Merrell-Giles “heartbroken,” it played out the way the pair wanted.
“When Tom (Farden) told me that he was looking at Kim I was so excited,” said Merrell-Giles. “Now that she is here, it is honestly a dream come true.”