SALT LAKE CITY — It was a night of fun, hiccups and a lot of success as Utah’s gymnastics team hosted its Red Rock preview Friday night in the Huntsman Center. The intra-squad meet is the team’s preseason showcase to welcome fans, get the jitters out and explore which gymnasts look the best in each event.
It’s also a chance for the coaches to observe which gymnasts can handle the pressure of performing in the Huntsman Center.
“We’ve got some talent to work with, and are showing quite a bit of depth,” said co-head coach Tom Farden.
Farden knows there were a couple stumbles on the night too, but that’s to be expected early in the year and nothing seemed worrisome.
“This was our first time on the floor tonight because we’ve been on the soft surface (in the Dumke training center) until today,” said Farden.
This year’s squad is led by All-American and national champion MyKayla Skinner. Other key returners are MaKenna Merrell-Giles and Kari Lee. The All-American duo is in their final season at the U.
Merrell-Giles is one of four local products on Utah’s squad this year. She and teammates Kim Tessen and Hunter Dula trained at All-American Gymnastics in Utah County while Lauren Wong is out of Salt Lake and USA Gymnastics World in Davis County.
Utah boasts a talented team this season, but it will be a season of new things for the group. The postseason has changed as the Super Six NCAA final has been replaced with a final four format. Utah has also changed up its floor routines and will continue to work on increasing difficulty across the board.
“The entertainment value on floor for Utah gymnastics went up a notch this year,” said Farden.
“Everybody’s routine is so individualized on floor, and they all fit our personalities well,” added Merrell-Giles.
The gymnast most excited about the floor changes is Skinner, who already is arguably the best in the nation in the event.
“I’m really enjoying myself again on floor and was so excited to show off my routine tonight,” said Skinner. “So many great changes and choreography for everyone.”
The reason behind the excitement is the addition of highly regarded choreographer BJ Das, who is working as a volunteer coach.
Another bright spot for Utah is the freshman class, which is adding to the talent pool Utah already possesses. Farden believes all of the freshmen will be contributing this season but admits there remains some devastation with the recent loss of Cammy Hall to an Achilles tear.Comment on this story
Dula is expected to be in the mix on bars, vault and possibly floor once she’s had more training under her belt – she and Tessen have both battled mono in the preseason.
Adrienne Randall is a lock on beam according to Farden, while Cristal Isa is a gymnast Farden believes strong enough for any of the four lineups. But it’s on bars where Isa shines, as she’s a two-time national bars champion.
Overall, Utah has its most balanced team in recent years in terms of experience with seven upperclassmen and seven underclassmen.
The Red Rocks open the season on Jan. 5 with Penn State in the Huntsman Center.