Utah's Kari Lee becoming key to team's success

Utah's Kari Lee becoming key to team's success

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Kari Lee is living her dream as part of the third-ranked Utah gymnastics team. The freshman is becoming a key part for the Red Rocks as she excels as a three-event star.

It’s no surprise Lee is a talented gymnast. She comes from a family who has strong ties with the sport. Her parents, Sam and MeJa Lee, own Arizona’s Flames Gymnastics Academy. Her older siblings were also competitive gymnasts.

Although her parents gave her a choice of what sport she could do, Lee remembers the decision to do gymnastics was easy.

“Since my older siblings were already in gymnastics, I was already embedded into the gymnastics world,” Lee said.

But Lee never thought she would compete for one of the best programs in the country.

“It was always my dream, but I never thought I could be where I am today,” Lee said.

Coming into Utah’s program, Lee knew the coaches wanted her to help better the team’s beam lineup. For several years, the event has been the Utes' weakest, but with Lee, freshman Maddy Stover and improved returning gymnasts, the Red Rocks are ranked fourth nationally on beam, averaging 49.190.

What's exciting about Kari is that she has some similar qualities to Georgia, except I don't know that I'd call her a champion in the making. I think she's already beginning to see that.

–Megan Marsden

Lee has exceeded expectations. She's scored at least 9.825 on beam and earned at least 9.8 in every event in which she’s competed. Her lowest score, 9.775, came on floor in the season opener at BYU.

She's tied for seventh in the country on beam with a 9.87 average. Additionally, the freshman is tied for 24th on vault, averaging 9.875.

Lee has also hit all 13 of her routines this season. At Arizona, she scored career bests in two of three events — vault (9.925) and beam (9.925). This past week against Arizona State, she scored 9.9 on floor, another career-best.

Her victory on beam against Arizona is the first time a Ute freshman won an event since 2012 when Georgia Dabritz had 12 wins and Kailah Delaney earned five wins as freshmen.

“What’s exciting about Kari is that she has some similar qualities to Georgia, except I don’t know that I’d call her a champion in the making. I think she’s already beginning to see that,” said co-head coach Megan Marsden.

Like Dabritz in her first years, Lee is a three-event star. Whereas Dabritz didn’t compete on beam, Lee has yet to compete on bars. Marsden explained that Lee is very close to being in the bars lineup.

“I think we will see Kari emerge as a top all-arounder in the country even sooner than Georgia really did," Marsden said. "She has that in her and that’s part of what is helping us be a top team this year."

Recently, Lee has struggled from sore Achilles tendon. As a precaution, she competed in one event — beam — instead of her usual three a couple of weeks ago against UCLA.

“Today is my first day not doing treatment,” said Lee with a smile. She is expected to compete in her usual three-event lineup.

Lee and the rest of the Utah gymnastics team head to Seattle this Saturday to compete against the University of Washington. The meet, which begins at 5 p.m. MT, will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

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