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Holli Joyce,

MaKenna Merrell-Giles leads No. 4 Utah to 197.15-196.225 win over No. 14 Cal

By Holli Joyce, Contributor | Posted - Feb 9th, 2019 @ 7:05pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — History is in the making.

“This team is making history in what is probably the most historical gymnastics program in the country,” Utah co-head coach Tom Farden said after the fourth-ranked Utah gymnastics team locked in its sixth-straight win and score of at least 197.

Utah came out strong and beat No. 14 California 197.15-196.225 to stay undefeated on the season. There were a couple of mistakes, which are uncharacteristic for the Red Rocks, but the team held on and fought until the end.

This year’s squad is on its way to tying the school record for most consecutive 197 scores, which is seven (2014 and 2016). But what is unique about this team is that from the beginning of the year, it hasn’t seen a score below 197.

Helping Utah continue its achievement on Saturday afternoon was MaKenna Merrell-Giles’ brilliant all-around performance. The senior won the all-around title, tying her season best of 39.575. She also earned season-high 9.925s on both vault and beam.

“MaKenna was in her element today,” Farden said. “Obviously she is a matinee woman. Her demeanor was great and she is leading this team by example and as a captain.”

MyKayla Skinner was out of the floor lineup for the second-straight week to rest a sore ankle. And though she wasn’t in the all-around, she wowed the crowd with a winning 9.950 on vault and a 9.90 on beam and 9.85 on bars.

Utah showed why it has been one of the top two vault teams all season, punching in a 49.475 score — just off its 49.50 season high.

Kari Lee started the meet with a 9.85 and the scores built from there. With 10.0 start values, Merrell-Giles and Skinner reeled in huge scores with stuck landings, earning 9.925 and 9.95, respectively. Utah took a 49.475-49.10 lead after the first rotation.

“Talk about beautiful vaults,” Farden said. “Vault was the shining event of the night.”

Bars was a different story, where Utah’s high score was a trio of 9.85s from Kim Tessen, Merrell-Giles and Skinner. The 49.175 effort on the event gave Utah a 98.65-98.20 at the meet’s midway point.

“We stuck three of our six bar landings and hit our handstands,” Farden said.

Sydney Soloski made her first appearance in the beam lineup this season, earning 9.80. Merrell-Giles and Lee followed the sophomore with back-to-back 9.925s. Adrienne Randall uncharacteristically had a break for a 9.675 — much lower than her previous low score of 9.825. Skinner anchored the event, unfazed, with a 9.90.

“We had some issues on beam, but we didn’t fold,” Farden said. “MaKenna, MyKayla and Kari’s beam routines were stunning.”

A 49.225 on beam helped Utah build on its lead to 147.875-147.35 after three rotations.

The Red Rocks’ 197 streak was at risk heading into the floor lineup’s last competitor after Soloski suffered her first fall of the season. With just Merrell-Giles left to compete, the pressure was on. She shined and finished with a 9.875 routine for a 49.275 on the event, just enough to push Utah over 197.

Next for Utah is the most brutal part of its schedule — three meets in eight days. The Red Rocks will first compete at the GymQuarters Invitational in St. Charles, Missouri, on Friday, Feb. 15, then head to Stanford for a Monday, Feb. 18 meet. They’ll return home on Saturday, Feb. 23 to host defending NCAA Champion and third-ranked UCLA.


Holli Joyce

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