The annual Red Rocks Preview drew a record crowd of 6,115 fans to the Jon M. Huntsman Center for the Friday night intra-squad meet. For the first time, the meet was televised by Pac-12 Network as well, so fans that could not make it were still able to watch. Because the meet was televised, the Red Rocks changed the format from two teams each competing doing partial routines to only eight gymnasts competing on each event but instead doing their full competition routines.
For the meet, Utah had four gymnasts compete in the all-around senior Baely Rowe, sophomores MaKenna Merrell and Sabrina Schwab and freshman MyKayla Skinner. Speaking of Skinner, it was her birthday, and it was the first competition for her since July when she competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Outside of one miscue on uneven bars, Skinner was excellent in the meet. Kari Lee, who received a medical hardship and gets to repeat her sophomore season after missing much of last season with a torn Achilles tendon performed well. Merrell, Schwab, and Skinner all scored 10.0s to open the meet on vault. Rowe, the only senior on the team, praised the team’s efforts on the night. Overall, it seems that both gymnasts and coaches were happy with their performances in the preview. One major positive was balance beam, which is where Utah struggled last season, costing them the Pac-12 Championship and a shot at the national title.
The Red Rocks will open the regular season with a huge meet at the Huntsman Center against the Michigan Wolverines on Sat., Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. Television coverage will also be provided by Pac-12 Network.
Below is the compete press release from the University of Utah:
SALT LAKE CITY— After tonight’s Red Rocks Preview, January can’t come soon enough for the intra-squad record 6,115 fans in attendance and a live national television audience. The 2017 version of the Utah gymnastics team dazzled its way through the preseason meet, televised for the first time on Pac-12 Network.
The decision to televise the meet spurred a new format (eight gymnasts on each event, rather than two teams) and full competition routines vs. pieces of routines as in past previews. There was something for everyone at the meet, from returners competing new routines to newcomers knocking it out of the park.
The lineup boasted four all-arounders in senior Baely Rowe, sophomores MaKenna Merrell and Sabrina Schwab and freshman MyKayla Skinner, but there was plenty of firepower behind them. One who stood out was Kari Lee, who is repeating her sophomore year of eligibility after losing most of last season to an injury. Lee was in the starting lineup on just one event (beam), but performed beautiful routines in exhibition on vault and bars.
Co-head coach Tom Farden could not disguise his optimism following the meet. “We’re a young team with just one senior, but that was a heck of a showing. Our depth was evident and you can see that it will be a fight for number one through six on every event.”
Rowe took it a step further. “Our first meet on the Huntsman floor shows we are a team to go after,” said the team’s lone senior. “I am so impressed with our young athletes.”
One young athlete the crowd was especially anxious to see was Skinner—last seen placing fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials in July. Skinner, who made the Olympic team as an alternate, did not disappoint.
Skinner, who celebrated her birthday at the meet, said of her Ute debut, “I haven’t competed since the Olympic Trials, so the nerves were coming out at first. But I love being out there with this team and I just enjoy having fun with them. I love being here at the University of Utah.”
Utah opened the meet on the vault with especially impressive routines coming from Merrell and Skinner from the No. 5 and 6 spots. They were two of three Utes who threw 10.0-valued vaults, along with Schwab. Last year, Utah featured one 10.0 vault in its starting lineup. A big cheer went up when Lee, competing from the No. 7 position, cleanly hit her first routine in nearly a year.
On the next rotation, two newcomers to the bar lineup—freshman Kim Tessen and sophomore Merrell—got things off to a good start. After Skinner under-rotated her shoot-over to handstand in her only miscue of the night, Tiffani Lewis, Schwab and Rowe responded with routines worthy of postseason play. Again, from the No. 7 position, Lee announced her intention to crash the starting lineup by performing a completely new routine beautifully.
The Utes took the meet to a new level on the balance beam, which opened with an almost flawless routine by Merrell. Next came Schwab—who took a big step toward breaking into the beam lineup this year with a beautiful routine that featured a stunning mount. Skinner’s routine also brought gasps from the crowd, especially her straddle jump to a back flip and her perfectly executed double back dismount. Maddy Stover entertained with her own bag of tricks, showing no signs of the shoulder surgery that slowed her early in the preseason and Lee looked like the beam closer she was before her injury. Rowe capped a beautiful set with a routine worthy of her 2016 All-America status.
“I think this team is a beam team,” said Rowe, referring to the event that cost Utah dearly at the 2016 NCAA Championships. “I trust every person will hit.” Added Merrell, “We put in a lot of good numbers on beam in the preseason.”
Added Farden, “That was just an incredible beam set.”
The Utes kept it going on their final event with a slew of new routines on floor, accompanied by innovative music and choreography and powerful tumbling. Rowe, Missy Reinstadtler and Lewis rocked their routines, but things really heated up at the end with back-to-back incredible routines by Schwab and Skinner. Skinner showed why she is one of the best in the world on floor, opening with a double twisting double back and finishing her routine with a full in.
Fans at the Red Rocks Preview enjoyed a rare opportunity to watch the meet from a new vantage point. Seating for the intra-squad meet was general admission, unlike the regular season, where reserved season tickets are being sold in the upper bowl this year for the first time. The school-record 8,410 tickets already sold for the 2017 season includes a nearly-packed lower bowl, as well as the first five rows of the upper deck. The Utes won their sixth all-sport women’s attendance titles a year ago by averaging 14,928 fans a meet.
The Utes will open their 2017 season on Sat., Jan. 7 against Michigan in the Huntsman Center. The meet starts at 5 p.m. and will be televised on Pac-12 Network.