The University of Utah gymnastics team started its season off the way it wanted to – on top. Behind stellar performances from MaKenna Merrell-Giles and MyKayla Skinner, the Red Rocks beat in-state rival Brigham Young University on Friday night, 197.000 to 194.275.
“From where this teams goals are, it was a fitting start,” said co-head coach Tom Farden. “If they truly want to inch up a little bit higher from where their finish was last year, we needed to start off strong and come out there and show that our confidence is there and have some command in our gymnastics.”
The command and confidence was shown by multiple Red Rock gymnasts as Merrell-Giles and Skinner tied with an all-around score of 39.475. For Merrell-Giles, who grew up cheering for BYU, her results were a testament to her hard work and how she has bought into the program.
“MaKenna has really embraced the training, the strategy behind college gymnastics,” Farden said. “When we first got her as a freshman, she didn’t quiet understand the game and what puts you in a position to have the most points. As she has gone along with us and talked about strategy and routines and things that are going to look best on her and in terms of execution and skill selection, we’ve been able to find that sweet spot with MaKenna. Obviously she had a great opening night.”
Utah started on vault and claimed the lead 49.325 to the Cougars 47.850 and never looked back. Kim Tessen and Tiffani Lewis had back-to-back 9.90 scores on vault.
The Red Rocks headed to bars second. Lewis got things started with a 9.850 score. Missy Reinstadtler added a 9.875 performance and Skinner anchored the group with a dominate 9.900 score. After that rotation, Utah led 98.650 to 96.675.
“I think the best part about today was it was exactly the way that we’ve been practicing,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t surprised by really anything [that] had happened. We had a few mishaps, but that’s going to happen.”
The main mishap of the meet came on beam where the Red Rocks scored an event low on the night, 48.975. Shannon McNatt started off with a 9.575 on beam and Merrell-Giles followed with a score of 9.875 before Missy Reinstadtler had a tough fall.
A 9.90 beam routine from Skinner helped bring the Utes to a total score of 147.625 while the Cougars were sitting at 145.575 heading into the final event.
Lewis set the standard on floor by leading off with a 9.90, but she was more thrilled about the performance by freshman Sydney Soloski who filled in for Kari Lee who was dealing with cramps in her calf. Soloski scored a 9.850 on floor.
“Those are the most gratifying moments is when you got a little freshman out there and you throw her out to the wolves and she rises to the occasion and drills it,” Farden said. “We were so proud of her.”
The Red Rocks will participate in the Elevate the Stage quad meet in Reno, Nevada on Sunday, Jan. 14 against UCLA, Washington and Stanford.