It was a battle. That thing was intense. —Utah co-head coach Tom Farden
ST. LOUIS — Prior to the NCAA women’s gymnastics championship, Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden was confident about how her team matched up with the competition — that is, against the competition with which the Red Rocks are familiar.
“We know how we compare to UCLA. We’ve seen them multiple times this season,” said Marsden. “We are pretty evenly matched with them. They’ll win one and we will win one.”
More exciting was the prospect of seeing how the Utes matched up with country’s other elite teams, particularly Oklahoma.
“It is exciting,” said sophomore MyKayla Skinner. “We don’t get to see them during the season so it’s exciting to see them in person.”
Exciting doesn’t come close to covering what happened Friday night at Saint Louis University’s Chaifetz Arena.
Led by Skinner, who posted an all-around score of 39.7250, as well as All-American efforts by Missy Reinstadtler and Sydney Soloski, the Red Rocks finished third in the evening competition, with a score of 197.1375.
That finish secured the Utes a berth in the Super Six, alongside Oklahoma, Florida, UCLA, LSU and Nebraska (the Bruins, Tigers and Cornhusker took the top three spots in the afternoon semifinal).
“It was a battle,” co-head coach Tom Farden said. “That thing was intense.”
“We did great because we made it to Super Six,” said Skinner. “Tomorrow we can go out there and end the season with a bang.”
For much of the meet "tomorrow" was in doubt. The Red Rocks started the competition on vault, and while things initially went well, they took a turn for the worst on a big hop by Tiffani Lewis and a side step by Kim Tessen
“I thought we were a little tentative,” said Farden. “I told the girls that we needed to relax a bit and trust our training a little more.”
Skinner did just that, as she is wont to do, and drilled her rotation-ending vault. The routine earned a 9.9375, which tied for the top individual score of the day.
Despite her heroics, Utah found itself in fourth place and out of Super Six qualification after the initial rotation.
Everything changed on bars. Lewis led off with a 9.850 and no Utah gymnast scored lower than a 9.8250 on the apparatus. Skinner, once again, closed the rotation with a high score, a 9.925.
“I was really happy with bars,” said Farden. “Bars kind of righted the ship.”
The next rotation put the Red Rocks on balance beam, and again they started well. Maddy Stover hit a solid 9.850 on the beam, seemingly setting her team up for an excellent rotation.
Instead, the normally sure-footed MaKenna Merrell-Giles fell.
“It was very uncharacteristic of MaKenna to go down,” said Farden.
Her fall put the onus squarely on Soloski and the Canadian delivered, if just.
She scored a 9.7500 and, most importantly, stayed on the beam.
“It wasn’t the best beam routine I’ve done,” said Soloski. “It was extremely stressful to get up there and know that our spot to Super Six was kind of on that routine. But my only goal was to stay on so we could get back on track. I am happy I handled it as well as I did.”
“The beam lineup fought through it,” said Farden. “We were wounded but not out of it.”
The "wounded" Red Rocks got back to their comfort zone on the floor, and by the end of a rotation that saw Soloski score a 9.9125, Lewis a 9.8750, Reinstadtler a 9.8875 and Skinner a 9.9375, they had secured themselves a spot in the Super Six.
“We all knew that as long as we did our normal floor routines we would make it back to Super Six,” said Skinner. “I know we were down after beam, but we are a killer team on floor. It was really stressful, but it is so cool that our team could pull it out.”
“We survived,” added Soloski. “But we all knew that floor is our event. Now, this is it. Tomorrow is our last (meet). We are just going to have fun with it and do something great.”
NCAA Championship Semifinals Results
1. UCLA 197.5625
2. LSU 197.4750
3. Nebraska 197.0125
4. Georgia 196.6875
5. Alabama 196.6250
6. Arkansas 196.4250
1. Oklahoma 198.0500
2. Florida 197.5875
3. Utah 197. 1375
4. California 196.5000
5. Washington 196.2500