TUCSON, Ariz. — The Ute gymnasts waited too long to make their charge, but soon enough to snare second place in a suspenseful Pac-12 championship competition. With MyKayla Skinner capturing her second straight Pac-12 all-around and floor titles and MaKenna Merrell-Giles winning the vault, the Utes came up big on their final event to secure second place behind top-seeded UCLA.
The final team tally was UCLA 197.500, Utah 197.350, California 196.950, Washington 196.750, Oregon State 196.575, Arizona State 196.425, Stanford 196.350 and Arizona 195.825.
Utah had a fourth Pac-12 title in its sights when UCLA ran into trouble on bars on the second event, but the Utes’ brief lead disintegrated after a subpar floor performance in round three. A valiant finish on vault allowed the Utes to shake off California and Washington, but the odds were too much to catch UCLA, the nation’s top ranked floor team.
“It wasn’t enough,” said a disappointed Utah coach Tom Farden after Utah finished the meet with the best vault score of the championship. “One of our goals today was to hit 24 routines, and we didn’t do that. It hurt us with score building and in the rhythm of the meet. It was like we got our mistakes out on the first three events and then relaxed when we got to vault. Hats off to UCLA. They were stellar on their final two events.”
As always, Skinner was stellar throughout the meet, tying for first in the all-around with UCLA’s Kyla Ross with a 39.675 and tying for first on floor with UCLA’s Katelyn Ohashi with a 9.95. And her scores came under intense pressure as Utah’s anchor on every event. Twice, Skinner had to finish the set after a teammate’s fall, ripping off a 9.925 on bars (good for second place) and a 9.90 on beam.
“I am really, really proud of MyKayla,” said Farden. “She followed (teammate) falls on bars and beam with big time clutch routines. She is an incredible gymnast. Missy Reinstadtler also had a really good night and how about MaKenna (Merrell-Giles) winning vault? It was a beauty,” exclaimed Farden.
After Utah stumbled on floor, where only Skinner (9.95) and Reinstadtler (9.90) were up to their usual level, hanging on to second place became paramount. California had crept within less than a tenth of a point, with Washington less than two tenths back, and the chase was on.
Finally, the Utes kicked it into overdrive and grabbed their sixth top-two Pac-12 finish in seven years of competition. Tiffani Lewis got the ball rolling with a 9.90 vault, followed by a 9.90 by Kim Tessen, a 9.95 from Merrell-Giles and a 9.90 by Skinner. Merrell-Giles’ victory was her first Pac-12 title.
As for the goal of hitting 24 routines, it was lost on the very first event when Tessen fell on bars from the No. 5 position. Skinner came to the rescue, swinging to a 9.925 and helped Utah into second place behind Cal. The team scores after one rotation were Cal 49.400, Utah 49.300, UCLA 49.275 and Washington 49.175.
In round two, Utah overcame another mishap on beam when Alexia Burch, in her return to the lineup after missing two meets with an injury, fell from the No. 3 position. Faced with elimination, Kari Lee (9.875), Missy Reinstadtler (9.825) and Skinner (9.90) saved the set and Utah finished with a respectable 49.250. Prior to Burch’s fall, Maddy Stover scored a 9.775 as the leadoff and Merrell-Giles walked through a 9.875 routine.
The beam recovery gave Utah its only lead of the night. Utah’s 98.550 two-event total led Cal (98.475), UCLA (49.425) and Washington (98.325).
UCLA made its move on the next rotation, exploding for a 49.60 on beam while Utah was out of sorts on floor. After three events, all four teams were bunched together, with UCLA in the lead with a 148.025, followed by Utah 147.875, California 147.775 and Washington 147.500.
Utah distanced itself from the Bears and Huskies in the end on vault. “Going into that final event, we finally let our gymnastics fly,” said Farden.
Utah’s coach also reserved praise for the judging at the meet. “That was just an exceptional judging panel,” he said. “They took deductions where they were deserved, rewarded routines that deserved it and prepared the teams here for the postseason.”
Up next for the Utes are the Pac-12 Regionals in Salt Lake City on April 7.
• Sophomore MyKayla Skinner has won five Pac-12 titles in her first two seasons: two in the all-around, two on floor and one on vault (2017).
• Skinner has 30 wins this season and 73 in her career. Her 20 career all-around wins ranks second in school history.
• Utah has had the winning all-arounder at the Pac-12 championships in six of the seven championships to date: Corrie Lothrop (2012), Tory Wilson (2014), Georgia Dabritz (2015), Breanna Hughes (2016), MyKayla Skinner (2017 and 2018).
• MaKenna Merrell-Giles’ vault win Saturday night is her 14th win of the season and her fourth on vault.
• Competing in the afternoon session and placing fifth through eighth were Oregon State, Arizona State, Stanford and Arizona.