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Holli Joyce, KSL.com

Red Rocks win SLC regional to advance to 43rd-straight nationals

By Holli Joyce, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Apr 7th, 2018 @ 10:57pm


35 photos

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah gymnastics team scored 197.475 to win the Salt Lake City regional and advance to nationals for a record 43rd consecutive year.

California’s 196.725 earned the second spot to join Utah in St. Louis for the semifinals. Auburn finished in third with 196.525, followed by BYU (196.30), Stanford (195.60), and Southern Utah (194.625).

“That was so fun,” MaKenna Merrell-Giles said. “Regionals is always a lot of fun, especially when we get to do it in front of our home crowd.”

The Red Rocks shined in front of a sold-out crowd, earning the highest scores on every apparatus. MyKayla Skinner won the all-around (39.65) and was the bars co-champion with a 9.90. She also tied with Merrell-Giles for first on floor with 9.95. Missy Reinstadtler earned a career-high 9.925 on beam to share the event title.

Utah started the meet on floor, where it posted 49.60 thanks to five scores of 9.90 or higher. The event, which the team performs last in regular-season home meets, is one of the team’s best. It showed despite beginning the competition on it.

“I knew we were still going to do well, but I just wasn’t sure what to expect,” Reinstadtler said. “When we went one after the other, hitting our routines like we always do, it was great and got us pumped for the rest of the meet.”

Kari Lee tied her season-high score with 9.90 as the second gymnast in the lineup. Reinstadtler and Sydney Soloski matched the score from the third and fourth spots. Merrell-Giles and Skinner made the Huntsman Center roar with back-to-back 9.95s.

“We got off to just an incredible start,” Utah co-head coach Tom Farden said.

The Red Rocks’ massive score gave it a lead they’d never give up. After each team performed one rotation, the standings were Utah (49.60), Auburn (49.325), California (49.125), BYU (49.075), Southern Utah (48.25), and Stanford (48.050).

Utah’s power continued on the vault, as most of the gymnasts stuck their landings. Kim Tessen’s Yurchenko one-and-a-half and Skinner’s twisting double full both earned 9.90s. Tiffani Lewis’ 9.875 also helped boost the Red Rocks’ lead with a 49.35 on the event.

“The way our gymnasts controlled their aggression on the leg events was amazing,” Farden said.

The home team entered the third rotation on its first bye of the meet, awaiting bars and beam. Once every team competed two events, Auburn and California switched places. The standings were Utah (98.95), California (98.525), Auburn (98.35), BYU (98.275), Southern Utah (97.275), and Stanford (97.175).

Returning to the floor in the fourth rotation, Utah took to bars. Skinner (9.90), Lewis (9.875) and Merrell-Giles (9.85) earned the team’s highest scores on the event with help from sticking their dismounts. They were the only three in the lineup who glued their feet to the mat. Farden found it “a little disappointing” that more of his athletes didn’t stick it as it left some tenths off the scoreboard.

“I felt like they were trying to place their dismounts instead of letting them fly,” Farden said. “One thing we really focus on in practice is to use their swing to put them in a position to go up and down and land and stick.”

After three full rotations, the standings were Utah (148.15), California (147.70), Auburn (147.425), BYU (147.35), Stanford (146.625), and Southern Utah (145.60).

Utah entered its final competitive rotation with a slight lead, ensuring that any mistakes on beam could be costly with California and Auburn within close grips. Suspense arrived when Soloski wobbled twice and Lee fell in the middle of the lineup. Reinstadtler and Skinner were left to compete. But despite the pressure, Reinstadtler performed a stunning, career-high 9.925. Skinner followed with a 9.90 to clinch the win and send Utah in the waiting room for its second bye during the meet’s last rotation.

“Missy’s beam routine was unbelievably clutch after that rare fall from Kari,” Farden said.

“I was trying not to get ahead of myself and get too excited,” Reinstadtler said.

“Missy killed it,” Skinner said. “That was so cool to watch.”

Utah will join Oklahoma, Florida, Kentucky, Washington, and California in the second semifinal at 5 p.m. MDT. The early session consists of LSU, Nebraska, Alabama, Georgia, UCLA, and Arkansas.

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Holli Joyce

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