This is exactly what the doctor ordered. It’s a huge confidence booster. —Utah co-head coach Tom Farden
SALT LAKE CITY — It’s the best time of the sports year — the postseason — and the Utah gymnastics team couldn’t have asked for a better regular-season finale to send it into the magical time.
Fourth-ranked Utah pounded its longtime rival No. 20 Georgia 198.15-196.35 Friday in the Huntsman Center. Utah hadn’t gone above 198.0 since the 2015 Pac-12 championships when it also hit the fourth-best score in school history.
“This is exactly what the doctor ordered,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden. “It’s a huge confidence booster.“
Reflecting on Utah’s regular season, the Red Rocks know they had one of the strongest starts in recent history. But some hiccups came prior to the Georgia win with back-to-back losses at No. 21 Cal and No. 7 Michigan.
“It’s not unexpected for a team to be performing at a high level and do what they did and come back,” said Farden.
Come back with a ferocious attack is what the Red Rocks did as they hit season-bests on three events against Georgia, highlighted by a 49.775 on floor. The mark fell just short of Utah’s all-time floor record of 49.8 (2001).
Heading into the postseason, which begins March 24 at the Pac-12 championships in Tucson, Utah will rely heavily on four all-arounders, Kari Lee, MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Missy Resinstadtler and MyKayla Skinner, who compete in 16-24 routines.
Merrell-Giles ranks eighth (39.535) nationally in all-around and is fresh off her second 10.0 of the season, this time on floor. Skinner is third in the country (39.665) in the all-around and grabbed her 19th victory in the event to take over sole possession of second in the Utah record books. The sophomore had been tied with Missy Marlowe at 18 wins.
Utah is a deep team, having used a variety of lineups over the season. It will continue to need strong individual performance to reach its collective goals of a fourth Pac-12 team championship, and 43rd-straight national championship appearance. The Pac-12 conference is as tough as it has ever been with all eight squads ranking in the top 36.
“The stronger the conference gets, the better it is for the sport of gymnastics,” said senior Maddy Stover. “We’ve always been able to use that to our advantage because we are a very competitive team, very competitive individuals.”
Farden credited the conference for the talent teams have brought in, including Olympians, and world and national team members. He also credited the new crop of coaches for increasing the competition.
“We’re all involved with the sport because we don’t know the outcome and we like excitement in our lives,” said Farden. "I know if we hit 24 routines to the best of our ability, then it's a success. We will see where it takes us."
Around the state
BYU had its best vault set (49.1) of the season in a tri-meet with No. 8 Washington and No. 16 Boise State Thursday. The Cougars are having their best season in several years, becoming a mainstay in the top 25 while reeling off solid scores behind sophomore Shannon Hortman Evans.
The Cougars, Utah State and Southern Utah will try to dethrone Boise State for the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Championship March 24 in Cedar City. Utah State won its regular season finale with a 196.5-195.75 win over SUU Friday. It was the Aggies best score of 2018 and the third best in school history.