SALT LAKE CITY — Through three rotations Friday night at the Huntsman Center, Utah gymnastics’ historic start to a season — a start that included four straight meets with a team-score above a 197 — was in jeopardy.
The Red Rocks were solid enough on the opening two events of the meet, with scores of 49.325 and a 49.300, respectively, on vault and uneven bars, but anything but on balance beam.
Utah suffered a fall on the opening routine of the rotation and a shocking career-low at the end, with a few more un-Red Rock-like routines sandwiched in between.
The result was a 48.875, the team’s lowest score on any event this season.
“Beam…,” an exasperated Tom Farden, co-head coach of the Utes, said.
And yet, with the meet seemingly slipping away from them, the Utes responded.
Led by freshman Adrienne Randall, sophomore Sydney Soloski, and senior MaKenna Merrell-Giles, the Red Rocks posted a season-best score on floor exercise (49.525).
It was enough, by 0.075 of a point, to give the Utes their fifth consecutive team score above 197 to start the season, a feat never done in program history, as well as a 197.075-195.400 victory over No. 23 Arizona.
“We crawled our way to a 197,” said Farden. “It is a good score, but it is 75 percent of what this team’s potential is.”
“We had some high and some lows,” added Merrell-Giles. “There are things we need to work on, but we did a lot of good things.”
None were better than what was done on floor.
“It was unbelievable. They were engaged, aggressive and they competed. The floor was amazing,” said Farden.
It all started with a pep talk from assistant coach Robert Ladanyi.
A former gymnast himself, on the Romanian national team, Ladanyi huddled with the Red Rocks prior to the floor rotation.
The message? Keep playing the game.
“He always talks about how meets are just a game,” Merrell-Giles said. “He said ‘Let's just keep playing the game. We have one more chance to up our score. Let's keep playing the game the way we know how.’ That really helped me, reminded me the meet wasn’t over.”
More than that, Ladanyi put a little bit of pressure on the Red Rocks, pressure they needed.
“He lit a fire under our butts,” senior Kari Lee said, matter-of-factly. “Normally, we don’t mention scores during meets, but he mentioned that in order to keep our 197 streak alive we needed a 49.5 on floor. It really helped us.”
Macey Roberts led off the rotation with a 9.875, followed by Lee (9.875) and Alexia Burch (9.825).
It was Randall, however, in the fourth spot, who set the meet-saving rotation truly in motion. The freshman recorded a career-high 9.950, with a routine that brought all 15,558 in attendance to their feet.
“To go up there and get a 9.950,” Farden mused, “She is just that kind of a kid.”
“Once I finished, all I could think about was that all my hard work paid off,” Randall said. “It was a great feeling to know that all of the work that I put in mattered.”
Following Randall, Soloski and Merrell-Giles earned a 9.900 and 9.925, respectively.
Merrell-Giles handled the anchor spot, as junior MyKayla Skinner sat out the rotation to rest an injured ankle.
“I knew they had it,” Skinner said. “They all work really hard in training. It made me really proud to see them go out there and get that score.”
The Red Rocks excellence on floor overshadowed other strong outings, such as Burch’s event-winning 9.900 on vault, her career-high.
Lee scored a 9.925 on beam, a season-best, and the team had a strong cumulative performance on bars that included a pair of 9.9’s, courtesy of Merrell-Giles and Skinner, as well as four stuck landings.
Nothing could mask the team’s struggles on beam, however.1 comment on this story
“We have had a fall in each meet,” said Farden, visibly frustrated. “I don’t see that in practice. Practice is supposed to be a predictor, compete like you practice, practice like you compete. We aren’t doing that.”
With a 5-0 record and another 197 in the books, not to mention injuries to Skinner, Cristal Isa, Missy Reinstadtler and others overcome, the meet could be considered a success.
“I am not doing that,” Farden said. “I am going to hold them to a higher standard.”
Welcome to Utah gymnastics.