With all the anticipation surrounding this meet, the No. 5 Utah Red Rocks (8-1, 3-1 Pac-12) and the No. 4 UCLA Bruins (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) did no disappoint the national television audience watching the meet on ESPNU. The Red Rocks came out victorious with a season-high 197.875-197.500 win over rival UCLA. Freshman MyKayla Skinner remained perfect in the all-around with a 39.675 to best UCLA’s Madison Kocian (39.550), a 2016 Olympian, and teammates Baely Rowe (39.525) and MaKenna Merrell (39.475). Skinner got the win on vault (9.925) and tied with Rowe and Merrell for the win on floor (9.950).
After two poor showings against Cal and at Oregon State, Utah’s lone loss on the season, co-head coach Tom Farden knew it was time for a change in practice. It appears the switch worked as the Red Rocks performed in the meet how they trained, which is always the goal.
"I knew it was time for a change in practice," said Farden. "If we wanted different results in meets, we needed to train differently. This team has a lot of competiveness and athletes who enjoy the spotlight. We worked on channeling that energy and adrenaline so that we would compete the way we train every day in the gym and it had a positive outcome."
Both teams were tied after the first rotation. Utah and UCLA both scored 49.400 on vault and bars respectively. UCLA, the best team in the nation on bars saw yet another 10.0 on the event when 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross posted the perfect score. Skinner got the win on vault, to remain perfect on the event this season.
Up next for Utah was bars, the event that doomed Utah in their last two meets. The Red Rocks came out firing though and built off each other. Merrell got the Red Rocks off to a great start with a 9.825. The Red Rocks closed out bars with three scores of 9.900 or higher from Skinner (9.925), Tiffani Lewis (9.900), and Rowe (9.925). The Red Rocks would match UCLA’s bar score with a 49.400 of their own. UCLA would score a 49.200 on vault, giving the Red Rocks a 98.800-98.600 lead at the halfway mark of the meet.
Utah would continue to build momentum on the beam. Maddy Stover got the Red Rocks started with a 9.850. Merrell posted a 9.825 then Utah had three straight gymnasts score 9.875s from Missy Reinstadtler, Skinner, and Kari Lee. Rowe anchored the Red Rocks with a 9.925 to give Utah their third-straight 49.400 event score. UCLA would score a 49.350 on floor. Heading into the final event, Utah led 148.200-147.950.
On the final event, UCLA was posting big score after big on beam. There was a huge disparity in scoring as well with Kocian getting a 10.0 from one judge and a 9.90 from the other for a 9.950. Ross got a 9.950 from one judge and a 9.800 from the other. UCLA would finish the event with a 49.550 for a total score of 197.500. Utah stayed in their Utah bubble and did what they needed to do on floor to get the win. They did not count a score lower than a 9.900. Maryland transfer Macey Roberts started Utah off with a 9.850. The next five Utah gymnasts were all fabulous with Reinstadtler (9.925), Lewis (9.900), Merrell (9.950), Rowe (9.950), and Skinner (9.950) all scoring at least a 9.900 or better. This gave Utah a season-high 49.675 on floor to give the Red Rocks a 197.875 in the meet and the win over UCLA.
After the meet, Block U caught up with two-time Olympic gold medalist Bart Conner to get his thoughts on the meet at Utah, which he covered as the play-by-play analyst for ESPNU.
“It's a thrill. It really was to me start to finish one of the finest gymnastics experiences I've ever seen. From the production, to the quality of competition, to the fan engagement, to the operations and execution, it was superb. All the way through to the lighting of the U. It was magic. We cover a lot of gym meets and college gymnastics is exploding, but it's important to sort of pay homage. This was the original place that cared about college gymnastics before gymnastics in college was anything. You guys were cool before college gymnastics was cool. I admired [former Utah head coach] Greg [Marsden] for what he started and he committed to, and then what you guys have built on is just remarkable. I cover every week we are somewhere mostly in the SEC, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, so I see a lot of good teams. I live in Oklahoma, and I cover meets for Oklahoma, the Big 12, so I've seen a lot of the teams, but in terms of the overall fan experience, I don't think that anything rivals this at all.”
The Red Rocks looked cool and confident the entire meet. They performed the way they do in practice and did not have a single fall. The Huntsman Center was rocking, providing a great atmosphere for the meet and showing the nation what makes Utah gymnastics meets so special. The Red Rocks will be at Arizona State on Saturday.