Gymnastics: Lee inspires Red Rocks to victory over Wildcats

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Chad Marquez

The No. 7 Utah gymnastics team earned a decisive 197.150-194.850 victory over the No. 20 Arizona Wildcats in the first Monday night meet in a decade on their home turf.

With a somewhat smaller crowd of less than 14,000 at the Huntsman Center, the Red Rocks wanted to redeem themselves after the mishaps in previous meets that cost them higher spots in the national polls. Co-head coach Tom Farden wanted the team to hold it together in each of its individual performances.

“It was important for me and to the rest of this young team that we finally compete a full solid meet after the last few weeks,” Farden said. “They came in this whole week with a lot of gymnastics practice which definitely helped with tonight.”

Before Monday’s clash against the Wildcats, the Red Rocks had to find new life without sophomore all-arounder Kari Lee, who is recovering from tearing her Achilles’ tendon in training last week, prematurely ending her season.

Losing Lee created a hole in the lineup that Farden and co-head coach Megan Marsden needed to fill, but overall they were confident in Lee’s replacements.

The Red Rocks started out Monday nights’ events at a slower pace than usual. Kailah Delaney took charge of the vault, earning a 9.850 score, followed by Breanna Hughes and Baely Rowe, who each earned 9.825, less than expected in their routines after impressive showings in their previous meet against Oregon State.

By the end of the first rotation, the Red Rocks barely held a slim lead over Arizona and led by only three-fourths of a point.

But in usual fashion, Utah began to take control of the meet with its expertise on the bars. Hughes brought the crowd to its feet with an impressive 9.925 routine on bars to lead the lineup. Rowe also continued to be a strong point, earning a 9.90 to give Utah a more comfortable lead heading into the third rotation.

On beam, the Red Rocks again came away with lower-than-expected results, but Hughes and Rowe took control of the rotation with their entertaining 9.85 routines. Sophomore Maddy Stover continued to experience problems. She fell at the beginning of her routine, ending Utah’s rotation with a 9.275 score.

The Wildcats also had problems on beam during the third rotation, helping Utah retain its lead into the final event for the night.

With floor being a problematic area the last time out, it seems the extra days of preparation paid off. Samantha Partyka generated large amounts of buzz from the home fans with her 9.975 routine. Hughes, Delaney, and Sabrina Schwab earned scores above the 9.900 mark.

With Arizona’s self-implosion on the beam, Hughes grabbed MVP honors as Utah closed the night the way it hoped and, in doing so, continued its unbeaten streak.

Schwab felt that some of the problems from floor were results of trying to be too perfect. After calming nerves and having more trust in their training, those problems went away.

“We just tried to do what we do in practice,” Schwab said. “I think we didn’t really try to be perfect, but just performed like we do in practice, and it turned out to do the job.”

Lee was on the sideline the entire night, cheering on her team. She gave them more confidence, and Hughes and the other Red Rocks performed in honor of their fallen teammate.

“A lot of us tried to do our best routines for [Lee],” Hughes said. “She wishes she can be out there, so we just wanted to go out there and do our best routines for her.”

The Red Rocks have a quick turn-around as they will face the UCLA Bruins on the road this Saturday.

c.marquez@dailyutahchronicle.com

@chad_marquez

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