SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The Red Rocks season is off to a rocking start.
14,805 fans showed up to the Huntsman Center to watch the Utes start the season with a 197.000-194.275 season-opening win over BYU.
It marked just the third time in school history and the first time in 13 years that the Utes reached the 197 benchmark in their first meet. It is also the third-best season-opening score ever for the Utes, who beat UCLA on the road in 2004 with a 197.350 and again at home in 2005 with a 197.675.
Maybe the best news is that the Utes left room to improve as the season progresses. “We were really pleased with three of our four events,” said Ute co-coach Tom Farden. “We survived an off night on beam, but didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot. Every other event, what we saw tonight is what we’re seeing in the gym every day.”
To no one’s surprise, MyKayla Skinner—who set the Utah single-season all-around win record as a freshman last year with 12—won the all-around. But, in a testament to Utah’s depth, junior MaKenna Merrell-Giles tied Skinner for first place with each scoring a 39.475. Merrell-Giles tied her career high in claiming her first all-around victory as a Ute.
She also won floor with a 9.925, while Skinner picked up individual event titles on bars (9.90) and beam (9.90). Senior Tiffani Lewis and sophomore Kim Tessen tied for the vault title with 9.90s—for Tessen, the first win of her Utah career.
BYU was led by Shannon Hortman-Evans, who had the highest all-around score for the Cougars at 38.900.
Other than the miscues on beam that Farden admitted caught him off guard, the only strange event was when Skinner—the 2017 NCAA co-champion on floor—stepped out of bounds on her final pass.
“I’ve been sick for about a week and a half and I haven’t done many endurance routines on floor, so I was kind of tired on that last pass,” said Skinner. “I was really happy with my bar and beam routines though.”
“MyKayla is human,” laughed Farden. “She’s been fighting a head cold and congestion, but when a teammate ties her, it is healthy for the whole team.”
Without question, it was a team effort. Tiffani Lewis scored two 9.90s and a 9.85 on her three events, Missy Reinstadtler’s high scores included a 9.90 and a 9.875, and freshman Sydney Soloski—designated as the alternate on floor until pre-meet warm-ups—scored a 9.85 in her first college routine.
The Utes jumped out to a quick lead in the first rotation, scoring a 49.325 on vault to BYU’s 47.850 on bars and the outcome was never in doubt after that. Lewis and Tessen scored back-to-back 9.90s from the middle of the vault lineup and Skinner added a 9.875 as the anchor.
Skinner picked up her first win of the new season on the next rotation, scoring a 9.90 on bars. Close behind was Reinstadtler with a 9.875. Lewis, Merrell-Giles and Kari Lee all pitched in 9.850s and after two rotations, Utah built a 98.650-96.675 lead over the Cougars.
The Utes ran into a patch of trouble on the beam where Shannon McNatt led off with a 9.575 and two routines later, Reinstadtler fell. Neither miscue had any impact on the two gymnasts who followed, with Merrell-Giles scoring a 9.875 from the No. 2 post and Skinner turning in a stunning 9.90. Lee closed the set with a 9.85 and Utah led by nearly two points (147.625-145.575) heading into the final rotation.
Lewis, the 2016 Pac-12 floor champion, led off Utah’s set with a 9.90, which was matched later by Reinstadtler. Merrell-Giles passed them later with a 9.925 and Utah improved to 96-2 against the Cougars.
Next up for the Utes is the Elevate the Stage quad meet in Reno, Nev., on Jan. 14 against UCLA, Washington and Stanford.