BATON ROUGE, La. (ABC4 Sports) – Death, taxes, and the Utah gymnastics team advancing to the NCAA Nationals.
That third certainty was in a bit of jeopardy after MyKayla Skinner suffered the first fall of her career on the uneven bars, but the Utes rallied with a strong performance on the beam to clinch their 44th consecutive bid to the NCAA Nationals.
Utah, which finished second to LSU with a score of 197.250, is the only team in the nation to make the Nationals all 44 years.
Holding a razor-thin 0.125 lead over Minnesota going into the beam, all six Utes hit clutch routines to secure second place and a trip to the NCAA Championship. Advancing out of the Baton Rouge Regional with Utah (197.250) was winner LSU (197.500). Rounding out the field were Minnesota (196.900) and Auburn (195.725).
Just minutes before Utah dashed Minnesota’s upset hopes with its brilliant 49.350 effort on beam, shockwaves were felt throughout the college gymnastics world when superstar junior MyKayla Skinner suffered the first fall of her college career. Skinner, who fell on bars as Utah’s anchor on the third rotation, saw her NCAA-record string of routines without a fall halted at 161.
Like her teammates, Skinner recovered nicely, scoring a 9.875 as Utah’s final competitor on beam after Kari Lee (9.90), Alexia Burch (9.825), Sydney Soloski (9.875), Adrienne Randall (9.75) and MaKenna Merrell-Giles (9.875) all came up big.
“When MyKayla fell, the team was in shock and Myk was speechless,” said co-head coach Tom Farden. “I told them to brush it off, that it didn’t do much damage and we would fight to the finish. To lock it up on the balance beam is a testament to how far this team has come on that event. This was a tough environment to finish on beam with a deafening LSU crowd cheering for their team. Once Kari scored that 9.90 to lead us off, it boosted the confidence of the beam team and everyone else followed suit.”
The Utes have a week to prepare for their next challenge—the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, Apr. 19-20.
Utah’s senior captains Merrell-Giles and Lee were brilliant in leading the Utes back to the NCAA Championship. Merrell-Giles scored a 39.600 in the all-around to tie for first place with LSU’s Sarah Finnegan and Lee scored a 39.400. Merrell-Giles and Skinner tied for first place on vault, each with 9.925s, and Skinner won floor with a 9.95.
The Utes looked sharp starting out on floor with Merrell-Giles and Skinner finishing a 49.375 set with a 9.90 and 9.95, respectively. After one rotation, LSU jumped out to a 49.500, followed by the Utes (49.375), Minnesota (49.275) and Auburn (49.050).
Vault was even better for the Utes and their 49.425 score would hold up as the best on the event by any team. Merrell-Giles and Skinner again starred, hitting back-to-back 9.925s. After two rotations, the Utes were right on LSU’s heels with these scores: LSU 98.850, Utah 98.800, Minnesota 98.675 and Auburn 97.450.
Before Skinner’s slip on bars, Merrell-Giles scored a 9.90 and Missy Reinstadtler a 9.875, but Utah’s 49.100 opened the door for Minnesota to gain ground for the second and final position. The three rotation scores were LSU 148.200, Utah 147.900, Minnesota 147.775 and Auburn 147.475.
It all came down to the balance beam, Utah’s nemesis for much of the season but a strength in recent weeks. Never this season was it as crucial as tonight.