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Wade Denniston, USU Athletic Media Relations
Utah State gymnast McKinley Pavicic (right) hugs assistant coach Whitnee Johnson after completing her beam routine Friday night against Southern Utah at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. Pavicic earned a career-high 9.950, which is tied for first in school history.

Utah State’s gymnastics team closed the home portion of its 2018 schedule in emphatic fashion, recording its season-high score in a 196.500-195.750 Senior Day victory over Southern Utah in front of 1,538 fans Friday night at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum.

The Aggies’ 196.500 ranks third all-time in school history, trailing only a 197.225 set on the road in 1997 and a 196.675 set at home in 2003.

“It was awesome to finally have the team show what they are really capable of doing,” said first-year USU head coach Amy Smith. “The performances were really good, and the scores followed suit, so that was great to see. I told the team that they brought their best when their best was needed, and that’s what we had been asking for this week. They knocked it out of the park, so I could not be more proud. We took one step closer to putting us in position to be at regionals.”

Following the meet, Utah State recognized three seniors in Miranda Hone, Melanie Oster and Keri Peel.

Utah State (8-9, 2-4 MRGC) swept every event title, including sophomore McKinley Pavicic capturing the beam crown with a career-high 9.950, which is tied for first all-time in school history.

As a team, the Aggies did better than the 49-point plateau on every event for the first time this season. Utah State’s 196.500 was made up of a 49.050 on vault, a 49.000 on bars, a 49.200 on beam and a 49.250 on floor.

“We’ve gotten more people back, so that has helped out tremendously,” Smith said. “We talked about weathering the storm when we had some athletes out and bringing people back in to fill those spots, and everybody has settled into their roles at this point. They’re so fired up to compete every weekend. It’s just so much fun, and they did a great job tonight. We haven’t gone lights out yet and this team is capable of so much more, so let’s do that next weekend at the conference championships.”

Opening the meet on vault, junior Madison Ward captured the event title for the Aggies with a career-high-tying 9.850. Freshmen Faith Leary and Mikaela Meyer each had a 9.825 to tie for second, while sophomore Jazmyn Estrella tied for fourth with a 9.800.

Moving to bars in the second rotation, Estrella led Utah State with a career-high 9.925 to capture the title. Her score on the event ranks tied for sixth all-time in school history, and she is the first Aggie to go that high on the event since McKinzey Martinez notched a 9.950 in 2016. Ward tied for second with a career-high-tying 9.875, and sophomore MaKayla Bullitt tied for fifth with a 9.800, which tied her personal best.

“I didn’t practice at all this week, so I was just going to do what I know how to do and take it one skill at a time. And I got a career high, so it worked out,” Estrella said. “When I landed, it felt good. We stepped it up this week, so hopefully we just keep going up.”

In the third rotation, Pavicic stole the show in the anchor spot with her 9.950, joining Nicole Kilpatrick in 2003, Tina Ellis in 2001 and Krissy Richards in 1997 as the only Aggies to ever go that high on the event.

“It was really great to be surrounded by my team, my family is here and it is my birthday, so that was probably the best birthday present I could’ve asked for,” said Pavicic, who turned 19 on Friday. “It was just an honor. Starting off with a fall on beam, it was awesome to see the team pull together, and that was inspiring, so there was just a lot of great energy that went into it.”

Freshman Taylor Dittmar and junior Emily Briones both earned a 9.850 to tie for second on beam, and freshman Leighton Varnadore tied for fifth with a 9.825.

“It was really awesome that we pulled together and were able to finish out with a 49.200 on beam, even with a fall,” Pavicic said. “We started off rough at the beginning of the season, but we’ve continued to progress and we work super hard in the gym every single day and we’re a consistent team. If we make a mistake, we are able to pull back from it, so it’s nice to be able to finally have some of the scores that we worked for. We’ll just continue to grow from here.”

The Aggies closed the meet on floor, where Ward placed first with a 9.900. It marked the 13th time in her career that the native of Rexburg, Idaho, has won the floor title. Leary and fellow freshman Autumn DeHarde tied for second with a pair of 9.875s.

Autumn Jorgensen won the all-around with a 39.325 (vault: 9.800; bars: 9.850; beam: 9.825; floor: 9.850) for the Thunderbirds (4-8, 1-6 MRGC).

“We just had a lot of energy, and we kept everything rolling after each event,” Estrella said. “We said, ‘Hey, one more event. Let’s go.’ It worked out well. We feed off of each other’s energy, and after we hit a good event, we want to do better and better, and that showed tonight.”

Utah State will head south to Cedar City, Utah, for the MRGC Championships on Saturday, March 24, at 6 p.m. The Aggies hosted the championships a year ago and placed second with a 196.100, their highest finish since joining the league.