The Red Rocks Preview Friday night drew 5,100 fans for their first look at the 2018 Utah gymnastics team. The team looked excellent at the annual event, and this team will look to compete for national championship No. 11 for the program.
“I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but if we can build on last year (when the Utes finished fifth at the NCAA Championships), we’re going to be right up there at nationals,” said co-coach Tom Farden. “We looked calm and confident and I liked our demeanor. We’ve had quite the collection of ‘type A’ personalities for several years now and (our gymnasts) have been highly motivated and hungry. The difference this year is our maturity. We were really young last year.”
MyKayla Skinner, who is the defending NCAA floor champion and all-around runner-up, is in her second year in the program and was fabulous on the night. After the meet, she highlighted the team chemistry this season.
“We have great team chemistry and we really want to finish in the top three at nationals,” said Skinner.
All-America senior Tiffani Lewis talked about the importance of the Red Rocks Preview for the team’s success moving forward.
“We want to set a high standard for Utah gymnastics right away. The Red Rocks Preview is important because it’s a nice little test for nerves, but we’re not competing in front of as many people as in a regular season meet and there are no judges so it’s not as stressful.”
Skinner, Lewis, Kari Lee, MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Missy Reinstadtler, and Kim Tessen all performed in the all-around at the event, and all 12 of the currently available gymnasts for the Red Rocks participated in at least two events.
Both Lee and Tessen are coming off injuries from last season, so they have been eased back into the leg events: vault and floor. Lee was limited last year during Utah’s post-season meets where they ultimately finished fifth. Tessen missed most of her freshman season. Because of her injury, Tessen’s floor routine for the Red Rocks Preview was not what her routine will ultimately be this season when she is fully recovered.
Skinner wowed fans with her Yurchenko double vault, performed excellent bar and beam routines and capped the event on floor. She has a new floor routine, but it still includes her double-double, one of the most difficult moves you will see in college gymnastics, which she of course nailed.
“MyKayla is a world-class athlete,” said Farden. “She has added a new leap combination on beam (switch leg leap to a straddle jump to a tuck back) and nailed it, her vault was gigantic and she added a release move to bars that now gives her three. She probably would have gone out of bounds on floor (had she not been spotted), but we’re OK with that right now.”
While Skinner was incredible in the event, other gymnasts also looked great and deserve recognition. Reinstadtler, a sophomore, looks to have built off her promising freshman season and could be a competitor in every event at the national level. Merrell-Giles performed well in each event during the evening event including performing a 10.0 valued Yurchenko one and a half vault. Lewis will be one of the leaders for the team this year, and she looked great on bars and floor especially. Senior Maddy Stover showed again why she is such a beam specialist and had a fun moment when she ran across the floor mat on her “tumbling passes.” Tessen nailed her Yurchenko one and a half vault.
The two freshmen available also showed promise. Sydney Soloski nailed two double layouts, one on her bars dismount and the other on her first pass on floor. Alexia Burch performed well on her beam routine. Freshman Lauren Wong, who is local, will join the team in January as an early enrollee.
The 2018 season kicks off for the Red Rocks will against BYU on Sat., Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. MT in the Huntsman Center.