I don’t know how to describe it. I am speechless. I have witnessed (Senior Night) for the past three years but you really don’t know what it feels like until you are in the moment. —Utah's Tiffani Lewis
SALT LAKE CITY — Following back-to-back losses to California and Michigan, Utah gymnastics’ co-head coaches Megan Marsden and Tom Farden knew that the Red Rocks had some work to do prior to the postseason.
Some improvement was possible on nearly every event, but above all else, the Utes needed to return to form on vault.
Early in the season Utah had been fantastic on that particular apparatus, scoring a 49.300 or better five separate times, including a 49.625 at home against Washington.
Vault had been a struggle in the Red Rocks’ losses, however, especially sticking.
“Vault continues to be a little bit of a sore spot without more sticking,” Marsden said during the week prior to their final regular season meet. “Earlier in the year we were sticking, so we are going to try and get back on track there.”
In an attempt to correct those struggles, Farden and Marsden put their gymnasts through extra vault training ahead of the final regular season meet against Georgia.
“They did ‘vault meet’ more than once this week,” said Farden. “We mocked it up in practice, broke things down in video and slowed things down.”
All the training paid off in a big way Friday night against the Gymdogs.
Utah posted a 49.400 team score on vault, their best since the UCLA meet. From there things only got better, with the Red Rocks earning season-high marks on uneven bars (49.450), balance beam (49.525) and floor exercise (49.775).
The result was a thoroughly convincing 198.150-196.350 Utah victory and an emphatic end to the regular season.
“I’ve been waiting for this night for a long time. We’ve really wanted to get a 198,” said MyKayla Skinner, who won the all-around title with a 39.725.
“Wow. That was a lot of fun. We finally put a lot of the missing pieces together tonight,” added senior Tiffani Lewis.
The first missing piece was provided by Missy Reinstadtler. The sophomore opened the night with a 9.850 on vault, a vault that included the ever elusive stuck landing.
“I thought Missy Reinstadtler set the tone for the night. She’s been sticking that vault in practice, believe it or not, and she let one fly,” said Farden. “That set the tone for the night and I kind of knew from there; I knew they were dialed in.”
Reinstadtler was followed by Kari Lee and Lewis, who each stuck vaults of their own, for scores of 9.875 and 9.900.
By the end of the rotation, the Red Rocks looked to be back in top form and the gymnasts' efforts in the final three events attested to that.
Three Red Rocks, Skinner, Merrell-Giles and Lee, scored a 9.900 or better on bars.
Two of those gymnasts, Skinner and Merrell-Giles, as well as Reinstadtler, completed the same feat on beam.
Then came the floor. Lewis led off the rotation with a career-best 9.975, a routine that brought the emotions of Senior Night bubbling over for the senior.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” said Lewis. “I am speechless. I have witnessed (Senior Night) for the past three years but you really don’t know what it feels like until you are in the moment.”
Fellow senior Maddy Stover, who scored a 9.850 on her final regular season beam routine and received a standing ovation from the 15,208 fans in attendance, echoed the words of her fellow Red Rock.
“There is nothing like being in the Huntsman having 15,000 people cheering you on. Utah fans have been able to make those four inches on the balance beam feel like home for me. That is just something really special.”
Lewis’ 9.975 was only the beginning.
Lee and Sydney Soloski each scored better than a 9.900 on floor only to have MaKenna Merrell-Giles outshine everyone with a perfect 10.0.
“It was like something out of the movies,” Merrell-Giles said. “It was so fun. Everything worked out.”
Skinner closed the meet with an arena-rocking 9.975, lifting the Red Rocks to their first 198-plus score since 2015.
“This was exactly what the doctor ordered,” said Farden. “I told them in the locker room, this is a huge confidence booster. I am really pleased with where we are. I think we turned a corner tonight.”