The chalk is out, the beams are up and the Utes are in prime form, as seen on Friday night.
The fifth-ranked University of Utah Red Rocks (1-0 overall, 0-0 Pac-12) opened up their 2019 season with a 197.175 to 194.450 victory over the Penn State University Nittany Lions (0-1 overall, 0-0 Big10). The opening meet saw a nearly sold out Huntsman Center, with over 13,000 fans in attendance.`
Senior Kari Lee had a strong performance on the vault to start the meet, scoring a solid 9.875. True freshman Cristal Isa kept up the team’s energy when she scored a 9.825 on her first vault at the collegiate level. Alexia Burch and Macey Roberts kept the consistency going on the event with their scores of 9.800 and 9.850, respectively. The Huntsman blew up once MaKenna Merrell-Giles nailed her vault routine with a score of 9.900. The event was rounded out by MyKayla Skinner, who was nearly perfect on her routine in scoring a 9.950.
According to Skinner, she has tried to stick her vaults and she was not expecting them to land.
“I have tried so hard to try and stick my vaults and I feel like if I don’t think about it, it makes it a little bit easier,” she said, referring to the stuck landing. “I wasn’t expecting to land it, so it was cool to come out in the first meet and already have a stick. It helped having Kenna lead off with that and I was like, ‘I got this. Kenna’s got it, I got it.’”
At the end of the first rotation, Utah led PSU 49.400 to 48.950.
Utah then moved to the bars for the second rotation, where the team continued to dominate over the Nittany Lions. Kim Tessen started things off on the right foot with her bar routine that scored 9.850. Lee continued the high scores on the event with a 9.825. Merrell-Giles and Missy Reinstadtler both scored 9.850 for the Red Rocks on this event, going into the fifth sport where Isa took over. Isa, a two-time Junior Olympic national champion on the bars, shined with her performance. She scored 9.925 on a performance that included a stuck landing on her dismount. Skinner rounded out the bars for the team, showing off her new dismount which garnered her a 9.95 on the event.
To co-head coach Tom Farden, it was Isa’s talent was evident on bars with the night’s performance.
“Cristal is a two-time national champion on that event and it was evident tonight,” Farden said. “To place a freshman in the five spot shows that we trust her and know she can deliver big scores.”
At the end of two rotations, the Red Rocks still lead, 98.700 to 97.575.
During the third rotation, both teams stuttered. The Lions had consecutive falls on their first three floor routines.
While Utah’s wasn’t so obvious, the beam did not treat the Utes as well as they would have liked. Things started on the better side when Shannon McNatt scored a 9.700 on the event. Adrienne Randall was good in her first collegiate meet as she scored 9.85. Merrell-Giles got things back on track with her 9.9 on the event. The good scores didn’t last long due to some unusual mistakes by both Reinstadtler and Lee. Reinstadtler and Lee scored 9.25 and 9.675, respectively, on this event. Skinner rounded out the event with a score of 9.85.
The Red Rocks’ lead had shrunk from 147.800 to 145.450 by the end of the third round.
The beam was not the only event for the Red Rocks where the scores were not where the team had hoped for. The first three girls who performed for Utah were Lee (9.6), Macey Roberts (9.875) and Reinstadtler (9.775). The last three scores were enough to put the team over 49 points for the event. Sydney Soloski scored a 9.850 on her first event of the season. Merrell-Giles got the crowd back into the meet with her performance, scoring a 9.925. The evening ended with a bang with Skinner’s explosive floor performance in which she scored a 9.95.
The Red Rocks also showed off the depth they have on the team with the exhibitions they had tonight. Burch had an exhibition performance on the beam in which her score would have been a 9.8 and Randall showed off her floor routine in which she would have scored a 9.725.
The Red Rocks will hit the road for the first time this season as the team heads down to Provo to take on rival No. 24 BYU on Friday, Jan. 11 at 7 pm.