The No. 6 Utah Red Rocks (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) opened the 2017 season with a 196.625-195.525 win against the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines (0-1, 0-0 Big Ten). Utah was led by freshman MyKayla Skinner, who dazzled the 14,000+ fans at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in her Utah debut. Skinner was named the MVP on the night for Utah after she scored a 39.550 in the all-around.
“MyKayla Skinner is a world-class athlete,” said Utah co-coach Tom Farden. “Competing on the world stage obviously groomed her, but she had ice in her veins out there tonight.”
Skinner has competed on many different gymnastic stages, including the Glasgow World Cup and U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Trials. She was the first alternate for the U.S. Gymnastics team that won the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“This was a different experience for me,” said Skinner. “I’m used to a fan base (from her experience at the U.S. Gymnastics Trials and international meets), but the (Utah) fans cheer for all of us. The experience here is amazing. I love every part of it.”
Utah started off the meet with a 49.100 on vault. Michigan struggled on bars, scoring only 48.300. Utah was anchored on vault by Skinner, who scored a 9.900 in her first event of her Utah career. Utah also got strong routines from sophomore MaKenna Merrell (9.850) and junior Tiffani Lewis (9.825). Farden said that part of the reason for lower scores on vault was that the coaches did not want the gymnasts to be aggressive on their landings this early in the season. Michigan was forced to count a fall after both Polina Shchennikova and Paige Zaziski fell during their routines. They were led on bars by Brianna Brown (9.850).
The Red Rocks were excellent on their first bar routines of the season, scoring a 49.275. Michigan faired better on vault than bars, scoring a 49.125. Every Utah gymnast scored a 9.800 or better. Skinner again led the way with a 9.900. Lewis (9.875) and Merrell (9.850) also topped 9.850 for Utah on bars. 9.850s from Talia Chiarelli and Emma McLean led the way for Michigan on vault.
Beam was an event that the Red Rocks struggled on down the stretch. This year’s team however looked great on the beam to start the season. Utah posted a 49.225 on beam, while Michigan scored a 48.925 on floor. Utah again did not have a single gymnast score below a 9.800. Utah’s first five gymnasts all hit their routines, with Skinner posting a 9.850. Sophomore Kari Lee (9.800) returned to the beam after missing most of last season with a torn Achilles tendon. Rowe, the reigning Pac-12 Champion on beam, anchored the Utah team with a 9.925 and received a standing ovation from the crowd. Having her teammates all hit routines before she took to the balance beam helped her go out and hit the excellent routine. Nicole Artz led Michigan on floor with a 9.875.
“Our beam tonight was Utah 2.0,” said Farden. “Every single performer was confident, aggressive and clean.”
Utah closed the meet out on floor. All of Utah’s floor routines are well choreographed with a lot of personality and flair. The Red Rocks will be a very good floor team this season, but a few miscues led to a 49.025. Lewis, the reigning Pac-12 Champion on floor, fell during her routine, and Schwab stepped out of bounds in her routine. Maryland transfer Macey Roberts made her Red Rocks debut on floor with a 9.850. Merrell continued her strong night with a 9.900 on floor. Skinner anchored the Red Rocks on floor and dazzled the crowd with a 9.900. Michigan closed out the night on the beam with a 49.175, giving the Red Rocks the 196.625-195.525 win.
In her first meet as a Red Rock, Skinner won or shared the victory in every event except beam. Merrell, who struggled a bit last year because she grew two inches according to Farden, had an excellent night, posting a 39.425 in the all-around. This Red Rocks team is young but loaded with talent. Three gymnasts competed in the all-around for Utah, and they are all freshmen or sophomores. The Red Rocks will compete again on Friday at BYU.