The Utah Gymnastics team opened up their 2018 season with a bang. In front of 14,805 fans in the Huntsman Center, the Red Rocks soared past BYU in a 197.000-194.275 win.
This marks the third time in school history and the first time in 13 years that the Utes reached the 197 benchmark in their first meet. It is also the third-best season-opening score ever for the Utes.
Ute co-coach Tom Farden was very pleased at what the team accomplished Friday night.
“For where this team’s goals are, it was a fitting start,” said Farden. “They truly wanted to inch up a little bit higher from where their finish was last year. We needed to come out strong and show that our confidence is there and have some command in our gymnastics.”
MyKayla Skinner shined in the season-opener and won the all-around. But it was junior Makenna Merrell-Giles who showed just how deep the Red Rocks truly are. Merrell-Giles tied Skinner for first place with each scoring a 39.475. Merrell-Giles tied her career high in claiming her first all-around victory as a Ute.
She also won floor with a 9.925, while Skinner picked up individual event titles on bars (9.90) and beam (9.90). Senior Tiffani Lewis and sophomore Kim Tessen tied for the vault title with 9.90s—for Tessen, the first win of her Utah career.
Although there were some great accomplishments, there are little things that Farden wants to clean up before the next meet.
“The balance beam was the glaring one. On even bars, a couple of the turning elements were a little bit late. I’d like to get those on top a little bit more.” … “Anytime I saw a hop instead of a controlled step, that raised my eyebrow tonight. So what I am looking for is more of a controlled step instead of that hop,” Farden said.
Two things that Farden said caught him off guard were miscues on the beam and when Skinner — the 2017 NCAA co-champion on floor—stepped out of bounds on her final pass.
“I’ve been sick for about a week and a half and I haven’t done many endurance routines on floor, so I was kind of tired on that last pass,” said Skinner. “I was really happy with my bar and beam routines though.”
“MyKayla is human,” laughed Farden. “She’s been fighting a head cold and congestion, but when a teammate ties her, it is healthy for the whole team.”
Tiffani Lewis scored two 9.90s and a 9.85 on her three events, Missy Reinstadtler’s high scores included a 9.90 and a 9.875, and freshman Sydney Soloski—designated as the alternate on floor until pre-meet warm-ups—scored a 9.85 in her first college routine.
The Utes jumped out to a quick lead in the first rotation, scoring a 49.325 on vault to BYU’s 47.850 on bars and the outcome was never in doubt after that. Lewis and Tessen scored back-to-back 9.90s from the middle of the vault lineup and Skinner added a 9.875 as the anchor.
Skinner picked up her first win of the new season on the next rotation, scoring a 9.90 on bars. Close behind was Reinstadtler with a 9.875. Lewis, Merrell-Giles and Kari Lee all pitched in 9.850s and after two rotations, Utah built a 98.650-96.675 lead over the Cougars.
Lewis, the 2016 Pac-12 floor champion, led off Utah’s set with a 9.90, which was matched later by Reinstadtler. Merrell-Giles passed them later with a 9.925 and Utah improved to 96-2 against the Cougars.
I asked Lewis if she felt any pressure being the lead off.
“No!” she said with excitement. “I feel very confident and I can actually feel the confidence from my teammates. I can’t really explain that feeling but everyone will tell you the same thing — it’s just some type of energy that happens.”
Next up for the Utes is the Elevate the Stage quad meet in Reno, Nev., on January 14 against UCLA, Washington and Stanford.