SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – On a night where very little came easy, the No. 2 Utes nonetheless cruised past visiting No. 17 Arizona State, 197.075-195.400, before 15,207 fans in the Huntsman Center.
Aided by a spectacular night from MyKayla Skinner, the Utes overcame a bit of early sticker shock and two falls to post their fifth 197-plus score in six meets this season. With the win, Utah improved to 7-1 overall and 4-0 in Pac-12 play while ASU dropped to 5-3, 2-2.
“The first vault score (a 9.775 for Missy Reinstadtler) shocked us a little because it was a beautiful vault,” admitted Kari Lee. “We tried hard not to let the scores get to us and we had some highs and lows (with our routines), but we fought through everything.”
Added MaKenna Merrell-Giles, who suffered her first fall of the season on the beam before rebounding with a 9.925 on floor on the next event, “It shows a lot about our potential when we hit a 197 with more than one mistake. It shows how good we can be.”
Skinner put an exclamation point on how good she is, winning all four events and the all-around. She scored a 9.95 on floor, a 9.925 on bars, 9.90s on vault and beam and a 39.675 in the all-around to raise her season victory total to 17. Midway through her sophomore season, she has 60 career victories.
“I have been really hard on myself,” said Skinner, who had the best freshman season in Pac-12 history a year ago and is currently No. 3 in the nation in the all-around. “Maddy (Stover) and Megan (Marsden) told me to start having fun again. It’s been hard going last on every event because when I’m preparing to compete, I can’t cheer for my teammates (who come before) and be involved. But today, I did.”
“We told MyKayla just let it happen and don’t press,” said co-head coach Tom Farden. “Don’t try to be perfect because the scores will come. MyKayla was brilliant tonight.”
Skinner aside, Farden lectured his team about giving the judges reason to find deductions by not sticking enough landings and making too many mistakes. “Mathematically, we can’t build scoring if we don’t hit 24-of-24 routines,” he explained.
“I was afraid of this meet,” he continued. “I call it a ‘trap’ meet. I don’t know if we were overlooking a much-improved and well-coached Arizona State team and looking ahead to UCLA next Sunday, but I know UCLA has been on their minds. We let down our guard a little bit, although we had some really clutch performances, especially after two falls at the No. 2 position (on beam and floor).”
The rare fall by Merrell-Giles on the beam oddly enough provided her beam-mates the opportunity to put their confidence on display. Next up was freshman Alexia Burch, who didn’t appear even slightly rattled about following a fall for the first time of her young career and scored a 9.825. Kari Lee and Missy Reinstadtler followed with 9.85 routines and left the rest in the hands of Skinner, who proceeded to execute her incredibly difficult routine without a hitch for a 9.90.
“Alexia Burch is just a freshman and what a clutch performance from her,” exclaimed Farden. “I am super proud of her. We have fighters. On both beam and floor after the second person fell, we could have closed shop and had wobbles the rest of the way, but we didn’t.”
On floor, Tiffani Lewis started the set with a 9.90 before Macey Roberts fell for the first time as a Ute. Lee got things back on track with a 9.875. A step out of bounds by Reinstadtler meant the Utes would count a 9.65, but they finished strong with Merrell-Giles scoring a 9.925 and Skinner a 9.95.
Asked about bouncing back so quickly from her fall on beam, Merrell-Giles laughed, “There’s no other way to say it. Falling flat out stinks. I had to replace that bad taste in my mouth with a good taste and I couldn’t dwell on it (her fall) for the team’s sake.”
Competing without high-scoring Sydney Soloski on floor due to a hard hit to her nose in practice this week, Utah used four all-arounders for the first time this season. With the timetable for Soloski’s return uncertain at this time and a nice exhibition beam routine from Shannon McNatt, Farden says tonight’s lineup is not necessarily set in stone.
However, Lee, who finished second in her second all-around appearance of the season, scoring a 39.425, may be hard to keep out of the all-around lineup along with Skinner and Merrell-Giles.
“Kari had another great meet for us,” said Farden. “It is great to see her back out there on four events.”
He and co-head coach Megan Marsden plan to give the team the rest of the weekend off to rest up and get ready for Sunday’s showdown in Pauley Pavilion against No. 4 UCLA—the only team to beat the Utes this season. UCLA and Utah went 1-2 in a four-team competition in Reno, Nev., back on Jan. 14.