The University of Utah Red Rocks gymnastics team kicked off the postseason close to home, as the PAC-12 championship took over West Valley’s Maverik Center on Saturday. Before the Utes even hit the floor, Arizona State set the scoring standard, posting a high score 196.400.
As the second seed, behind UCLA, the Utes started the competition on the bars, where senior Kari Lee opened up the evening with a solid performance, resulting in a 9.850, but it was Hunter Dula and Kim Tessen who wowed the crowd the most in the early stages, bringing in a 9.950 and 9.925 respectively, with Tessen’s routine putting the mostly red crowd on their feet. Despite a fairly large step on her dismount, MaKenna Merrell-Giles turned in a 9.900 in the middle of the lineup. MyKyla Skinner rounded out the routine with a dazzling 9.950 that was victim of one or two handstands that weren’t quite vertical, but was otherwise flawlessly executed. After the first rotation, the Utes held a .150 lead over the second place Bruins.
Kari Lee again led things off for the Utes as the team moved to the beam with a slightly wobbly performance, resulting in another 9.850. Balance issues continued with Alexia Burch, who netted a 9.800, while UCLA was stringing together 9.900+ scores on the other side of the gym, cutting in to Utah’s early lead. Sydney Soloski’s run resulted in a cleaner performance, free of balance checks, but a bit of misstep on the dismount resulted in a 9.825. It was Adrienne Randall who finally got things going on the beam, earning a 9.900 with her highly acrobatic routine. Merrell-Giles continued this scoring rebound after her back handspring Lauren routine netted a 9.875 from the judges. At the anchor position, Skinner’s routine fell a bit flat due to some small balance issues, resulting in a 9.850 which led to a chorus of boos from the Ute faithful that dominated the crowd. The low-scoring rotation allowed the Bruins to claim a .200 lead over the Utes, who had achieved 98.875 through two events.
The Red Rocks moved to the floor for their third rotation, led by Macey Roberts, who earned a 9.950, setting the tone for the rest of the roster early on. Kari Lee kept pace, earning a 9.925, matching her season high, thanks in part to a perfect final tumbling pass that put the crowd on their feet. Merrell-Giles’ 9.950 helped to keep the Utes in contention as the third rotation began to wind-down, however the enthusiastic crowd tried to convince (unsuccessfully) that the senior star was deserving of the 10.000 that has alluded this Utah squad all season. That all changed when Skinner hit the floor. After a season where the junior star has been visibly frustrated with her inability to convince the judges of her athletic prowess in the event, the fan favorite finally notched a perfect score to wrap up the third rotation and move the Utes to within .050 of the top seeded Bruins.
With the pressure mounting, Kari Lee opened up the Red Rock’s final rotation (closing out on the vault) with a 9.900, while Macey Roberts followed with a 9.850. Utah continued to hit their vault routines without any egregious errors as Alexia Burch notched a 9.875, which was matched by Merrell-Giles. Skinner helped the Utes rebound with a 9.950 with her ever difficult double Yurchenko fold, which occurred just as UCLA’s Kyla Ross earned a perfect score on the floor, clinching all-around honors, edging out Skinner by .050.
In the end, Utah’s comeback attempt fell short despite achieving their highest score of the season with a 198.025, with the UCLA claiming back-to-back conference titles thanks to a 198.400 off of another perfect performance from the ever popular Katelyn Ohashi. Utah’s postseason run will continue as the team moves to the regional rounds on April 4th through the 6th.