Red Rocks to Host BYU in Season Opener


Kiffer Creveling

University of Utah gymnastics senior Maddy Stover performs on the balance beam in the Red Rocks Preview at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Carra McManamon

The season will open for the University of Utah’s gymnastics team against in-state opponent BYU on Friday, Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

The Red Rocks hold a 95-2 overall record against the Cougars and are 44-0 at home. Both Kim Tessen and MaKenna Merrell-Giles, gymnasts for the U, are familiar with the area down south. Tessen grew up in Orem, while Merrell-Giles, who grew up wanting to compete for the Cougars, is from Pleasant Grove. Her dad works for the college, her brother currently attends BYU and her sister was a gymnast for the Cougars from 2008-12.

“When I was little I always wanted to go there and seeing my sister, you want to follow in your sibling’s footsteps,” Merrell-Giles said. “I wanted to do that when I was little and then I started getting recruited by the U. I changed and saw how wonderful this program is, the school and the atmosphere here is amazing.”

The decision to travel north wasn’t hard for Merrell-Giles, who recently got married this summer. She’s looking forward to having her side of the family in attendance for the Red Rocks season opener.

“I knew I wanted to go to a top college and it just so happened that Utah was only 40 minutes away from my house. I liked being closer to home rather then being across the country,” Merrell-Giles said. “I liked that I could come home whenever I wanted to.“

While the rivalry is in full force between the two programs, the Red Rocks aren’t as focused on the history of the two opponents. Rather, Utah is looking to start its season off on the right foot in front of a crowd.

“We always talk about the month of November being one of the most difficult to get through,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden. “December is a little easier [now that] we had Red Rocks preview and they got to show off a little bit there. Then they go home and see their families over Christmas, but they started in August so they’ve only been trying to keep the coaches happy for a long time and they’re ready for their fans to see what they’re working on.”

The gymnasts have had a different training regime this preseason and they are anxious to see their hard work put to the test. The level of excitement in the gym can be felt and is seen by the smiles on their faces. For Merrell-Giles, getting to compete against the team she grew up cheering for makes Friday’s meet extra special.

“I’m so excited,” Merrell-Giles said. “We worked so hard this summer and preseason. I’m just ready to get going, especially with [an] in-state rival. It’s so fun to start off with BYU.”

[email protected]