Utah Gymnastics gets big win at home

Utah gets a big win at home vs Washington (Photo: KUTV)

SALT LAKE CITY—A sellout crowd of 15,558 in the Huntsman Center for a rare Saturday matinee was rewarded with the best performance of the year by the No. 3 Utah gymnasts, who vaulted to a 197.700-196.250 win over No. 15 Washington. With the victory, Utah improved to 6-1 on the season and 3-0 in the Pac-12.

MaKenna Merrell-Giles got the huge crowd on its feet early, nailing a perfect 10.0 vault to lead Utah to its best score of the year on any apparatus—a 49.625. She flirted with perfection again at the end of the meet when she received a 9.975 on floor to highlight a season-high 49.600 team floor score.

“MaKenna is having a great season and she is in a different place this year,” said co-head coach Tom Farden after Merrell-Giles won her third all-around title of the season and her career. “Since the preseason, MaKenna has approached her gymnastics without anxiety and has gone out and had fun. It has shown in her results.”

The junior, who is enjoying her best season as a Ute, scored 39.675 in winning the all-around. She needed every tenth to fend off sophomore teammate MyKayla Skinner (39.625). Placing third in her first all-around appearance of the season was Kari Lee (39.375). Lee replaced Missy Reinstadtler in the floor lineup to allow Reinstadtler to rest a sore foot.

“We have four exceptional all-around choices (Merrell-Giles, Skinner, Lee and Reinstadtler), which makes other teams envious,” said Farden. “That was another great meet for us and we are getting big contributions from every position in the lineup.”

Utah, which has set a season-high team score in each of the last three meets, got its biggest point production today on the opening and closing events.

“Both the leg events (vault and floor) were exceptional for us tonight,” said Farden. “We had some problems at the No. 5 spot on both bars and beam, but MyKayla (Skinner) kept them from impacting our overall score both times. Her routines immediately following her teammates’ miscues were outstanding and showed once again how mentally strong she is.”

Skinner won the beam with a 9.90, adding to Merrell-Giles’ victories in the all-around, vault and floor. The duo has now combined to win 22 individual titles this season—12 by Skinner and 10 by Merrell-Giles.

“The best thing is that, as good as we were today, we can be even better. When we hit all 24 routines the way we are capable, it is going to be really amazing,” said Merrell-Giles.

Added Skinner, “This year has a different feel. We are healthy, strong and competing with confidence. And we all really want to win.”

The gymnasts were quick to include props for the fan base. “I wait all week for the feeling we get when the crowd is cheering us on,” said Merrell-Giles. “There’s nothing like it.”

Just minutes into the meet, Merrell-Giles’ 10.0 on vault—the first by a Ute on the event since 2015—sent the crowd into bedlam. Assisted by a 9.95 from Kim Tessen and a 9.925 from Skinner on the next routines, Utah posted a season-high 49.625 to take an intimidating lead over the Huskies (49.150 on bars).

Merrell-Giles stayed hot on bars, tying her career-high with a 9.875, which matched Reinstadtler’s as Utah’s highest score on the event. Tessen suffered the first fall of her career from the No. 5 position, but Skinner kept it from hurting with a 9.85 routine that brought the team score to 49.250. Utah led 98.875-98.100 at the midway point.

Skinner took the limelight on beam where her routine looked perfect to a capacity crowd expecting another 10.0. Her 9.90 score, which included a 9.85 from one judge, brought on a cascade of boos. Maddy Stover and Alexia Burch both chipped in solid 9.85s in a set that totaled a 49.225. Heading into the final event, Utah held a comfortable 148.100-147.250 lead over the visiting Huskies.

The party really started on floor where the amped up fans maintained a constant roar. The final four competitors scored a 9.90 or better in a 49.600 set. In her first floor routine of the season, Lee scored a 9.90, followed by a 9.90 by freshman Sydney Solosky (her third straight 9.90-or-better score this season). Merrell-Giles again created near pandemonium with her 9.975 routine and Skinner came close to equaling it with a 9.95 in the grand finale.

The Utes stay at home for another week, hosting Arizona State on Friday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. before heading on the road for three straight meets.

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