University of Utah women's gymnastics junior Kari Lee performs on the uneven bars in a duel meet vs. Brigham Young University at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

For the 44th time in school history, the University of Utah Red Rocks gymnastics team is headed to the NCAA National Championship. The team made it into the eight-team competition after having a sluggish competition on Friday but shook it off for Saturday’s meet.

The team started their road to nationals on Friday, when they competed in the Baton Rouge Regional Semifinal. Up to Friday’s meet, the team had scored 197 points or higher in all of their meets. The team’s streak was broken after they scored a 196.800 in their victory.

Things didn’t start off well for the team in that first meet. During their first rotation on vault, only one gymnast scored above a 9.875 (MyKayla Skinner, 9.90). Utah still leads the other three teams, competing at the end of the first rotation. Utah had scored a 49.200, in-state rival BYU was in second (49.075), Minnesota third (49.050) and rounding out the group of four was Arkansas, who put up a 48.900.

The Red Rocks then jumped to the bars where the team put up their highest rotation scores of the night, scoring a 49.325. Both Skinner and Missy Reinstadtler put up 9.90’s in the team’s second rotation. Utah was the only team in the meet that held their position at the end of the rotation. Arkansas had jumped both BYU and Minnesota to take second place with a 97.950. BYU and Minnesota were in a deadlock with both teams scoring 97.825, while Utah’s lead had grown to 98.525.

The team took to the beam for their third rotation. The event has been a roller coaster for the team this season and on Friday night it showed to be a down night. The highest score on the event came from the leadoff performance from Kari Lee, who put up a 9.850. There were four scores of 9.80 for the team during the rotation.

Heading into the final rotation, the Red Rocks still led, but the race for second place was heating up. Arkansas was trailing with a 147.125, Minnesota was hot on their heels with a 147.050, while BYU seemed to be struggling with a score of 146.825.

For their final event of the night, the Red Rocks hit the floor. The highlight of the rotation came from Skinner who put up a 9.925 on the event. That score not only clinched the regional title for the floor but also solidified Skinner’s victory in the All-Around, both at the session and the regional level. Skinner also won the regional title on the bars.

Utah punched their ticket to the regional finals after putting up a season-low score of 196.800. Advancing with the Red Rocks was Minnesota, who scored a 196.300.

The team then competed in the Baton Rouge regional final on Saturday night. The Red Rocks and Golden Gophers took on host and winner of the second session LSU and runner up Auburn in a meet that was a nail-biter to the bitter end.

The Red Rocks started things off on the floor and on the right foot. The team came out like fans were used to seeing as they put up a 49.375 on the event. Skinner and MaKenna Merrell-Giles put up the high scores of 9.950 and 9.900 respectively on the event.

At the end of the first rotation, the top three teams were all neck-and-neck. LSU was leading with a 49.500, followed by Utah, and rounding out the top three was Minnesota, who was just a tenth behind Utah at 49.275.

The vault was the team’s next destination at the finals. They were looking to rebound after a lackluster performance the day before. Backed by a pair of 9.925’s from Skinner and Merrell-Giles, the team started to distance themselves from Minnesota. The Tigers held strong in first (98.850), Utah in second (Utah 98.80), Minnesota was in third (98.675) and Auburn was in fourth (97.450).

The third rotation the Red Rocks took to the bars looking to distance themselves even more. The highest score of the night came from Merrell-Giles’ 9.900.

Gymnastics fans across the country gasped in disbelief during the third rotation as Skinner fell off the bars. Up until that point, she had never fallen in an event and held the NCAA record for most routines without a fall (161 routines). Skinner finished her routine with a score of a 9.175. Due to the fall, the team was forced to count the 9.750 that Hunter Dula had scored.

“When MyKayla fell, the team was in shock and Myk was speechless. I told them to brush it off, that it didn’t do much damage and we would fight to the finish,” said co-head coach Tom Farden to Utah Athletics.

Heading into the final rotation LSU had all but solidified their position in nationals with a score of 148.200. It was the second spot that was going to be decided in the final rotation. Utah held a 0.125 point lead on Minnesota going into the final rotation.

It was fitting that the Red Rocks hit what could be said was their weakest event to finish off the night. The team took the words from Farden and made it a beam set to remember.

Lee’s leadoff performance of 9.900 was what the team needed and they were off to the races. Alexia Burch followed Lee with a 9.825. Sydney Soloski put up a 9.875, and the drop score came from Adrienne Randall’s 9.750. It was fitting that co-captain Merrell-Giles punched Utah’s ticket with a 9.875 on the event. Skinner shook off the fall from the last rotation and scored another 9.875 to put the cherry on top of the rotation.

Advancing with Utah to nationals is LSU, who scored a 197.500. Utah’s 197.250 was enough to hold back a determined Minnesota team (196.900). Auburn finished in fourth place with a 195.725.

The Red Rocks will have next week off to prepare for the NCAA championship that is set for April 19 to 20 in Fort Worth.

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Sammy Mora
Sammy Mora is currently in her second year of writing for The Daily Utah Chronicle. Before writing here, Sammy was a four year staff member of her high school newspaper The Speaking Eagle where she reached the level of sports editor.

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