SALT LAKE CITY — For much of the season, balance beam has been a bugaboo of sorts for Utah gymnastics.
On vault, floor exercise, even uneven bars, the Red Rocks have excelled, but beam has been hit or miss.
“Beam is just a hard event,” MyKayla Skinner said.
Utah struggled on balance beam a week ago in its victory over Arizona, and the performance had gymnasts and coaches alike looking for explanations and possible solutions.
One hypothesis contended that the Utes were putting to much pressure on themselves to perform at home.
“The times that they have struggled so far have been in the Huntsman Center,” Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden said. “I think they are putting more pressure on themselves in front of their fans. They want it even more.”
Another explanation was simply that beam is rarely a gymnast’s strongest event, confidence is lower there and even the slightest miscue can throw off a lineup.
“Beam is usually people's weakness and that event is one you have to be more confident on,” said Skinner. “Even for me, I'm usually feeling pretty confident, and I get stressed a little bit at the end (of beam).”
“We have been getting a little too in our heads,” added Alexia Burch. “Once we have a little thing happen everyone gets stiff, and that’s when wobbles and mistakes happen.”
The Utes trained all week leading into Saturday’s meet against No. 14 Cal with an eye on improving on the apparatus, and while they certainly weren’t perfect — there were still wobbles here and there — improve they did.
Led by MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Kari Lee and Skinner, Utah had a bounce-back beam rotation and scored a 49.225, the team’s second-best beam score this season.
Coupled with strong vault (49.475), floor (49.275) and bars (49.175) rotations, Utah did more than enough to defeat California 197.150-196.225.
“It was great,” Merrell-Giles said. “It was a lot of fun and I thought we did really good.”
Merrell-Giles won the all-around with a score of 39.575, thanks to two season-highs — a 9.925 on vault and another 9.925 on beam.
Lee, Utah’s other all-arounder, wasn’t too far behind and scored a 9.925 on beam for the second week in a row.
The final score marked the sixth consecutive meet in which Utah (6-0) has scored 197-plus.
“It is pretty cool,” co-head coach Tom Farden said. “This little team is making history in arguably the most historic program in the country. That’s kind of cool.”
The Utes started on vault and left little doubt that they were prepared for competition.
The 49.475 scored was the team’s second-highest vault score this season.
Merrell-Giles and Skinner were the premier performers, with a 9.925 and 9.950, respectively.
“Vault was amazing,” said Farden. “MaKenna and MyKayla … talk about beautiful vaults. We got off to a really great start because of vault. It was the shining event of the night.”
Bars, with a score of 49.175, was a little less impressive score-wise, with Skinner, Merrell-Giles and Kim Tessen tying for a team-high score of 9.850.
Even so, Farden was pleased.
“We stuck three of six landings and our handstands were good,” said Farden. “I told the athletes that regardless of the scores we saw today that I was really proud of their performances.”
Beam followed, and after Shannon McNatt struggled a bit in leadoff, Sydney Soloski recorded a 9.800 in her first beam routine this season, followed by 9.925s by Merrell-Giles and Lee.
“Megan told us not to make it bigger than what it is, and that's what we did,” said Lee. “We let our bodies do (beam) instead of our minds and that is what happens I guess.”
After Skinner closed out the rotation with a 9.90, the Red Rocks took to the floor where the trio of Macey Roberts, Adrienne Randall and Merrell-Giles each scored a 9.875 to pace the Utes.
“We finished strong on floor again,” said Farden. “The gymnasts are getting more comfortable with their performance level, actually performing the routines, and this is about the time of year when you want to see that.”
In the end, it all went back to beam, however.
“All the little things that we worked on all week, the stuff we needed to fix from last weekend, we did that,” said Lee. “We had a couple of mistakes but we never caved.”
“Three of the six beam routines were about as good as the kids do them in practice,” added Farden. “MaKenna, Kari and MyKayla’s beam routines were just stunning. As a coach, you can’t be more pleased than that.”