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ATHENS, Ga. — There’s a bright side to everything.
The fifth-ranked Utah gymnastics team didn’t finish its regular-season finale the way it wanted against No. 7 Georgia. Behind the entire meet, the Red Rocks fought back but, despite their efforts, the Gymdogs were victorious in their 197.250-196.650 upset win.
The good news for Utah (10-2, 5-1 Pac-12) is that Kari Lee, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury last year, is back to competition health. Lee returned to the floor lineup and all-around for the first time in more than a year.
Coming back with a bang, Lee earned 9.875 on floor and won the beam title with a 9.90 score. Like a cherry on top of her already sweet night, Lee won the all-around with a career-best 39.450. Teammate MyKayla Skinner, who was undefeated in the all-around before Saturday, finished second with her 39.425 all-around score. Lee’s return to the all-around came after coaches decided to rest Baely Rowe on vault and floor.
“She was obviously the highlight for us,” Utah co-head coach Tom Farden said of Lee’s day. “She was pressing during warmups a bit. I told her to stop trying to be perfect and just do her gymnastics and she’d be just fine.”
As the visiting team, Utah started its day on bars. The Red Rocks got off to a shaky start when MaKenna Merrell fell as the first competitor. The next five gymnasts hit their routines, putting up a 49.025 score. Lee and Skinner posted the Utes’ best individual bars score with 9.825s.
“We got tight on bars and weren’t as aggressive as we wanted,” admitted Farden.
Georgia (7-6, 4-3 SEC) scored 49.375 on vault to take the lead it wouldn’t give up.
The Utes took to vault, where Skinner’s 9.875 prevented her from closing the regular season undefeated on the event. Utah trailed Georgia 98.550-95.150 at the meet’s midway point.
“We executed three 10.0-valued vaults cleanly and continue to prepare the vault team with an eye on the postseason,” Farden said.
On one of its best events, the Red Rocks narrowed the Gymdogs’ lead despite some woes on floor. Skinner (9.925) lit up the floor, Lee made her season debut and Missy Reinstadtler locked in a 9.85 after a beautiful routine. Last year’s conference champion on floor, Tiffani Lewis, uncharacteristically fell in her routine. Though her score didn't count, the usually consistent and high-scoring gymnast’s mistake prevented Utah from putting up its typical high score.
Despite the mistakes, Utah made a run at Georgia and trailed 147.650-147.40 with one event left.
With one more attempt to claim victory, the Red Rocks’ beam lineup hit all its routines, including a 9.90 from Lee and 9.875 from Rowe. Their 49.250 beam effort wasn’t enough as Georgia rocketed to the win with a 49.60 on floor.
“It was a hostile environment and a tough place to compete,” said Farden. “We never gave up and kept the pressure on them.”
Next for Utah is the Pac-12 championships, which take place in Stanford, California, March 18.