SALT LAKE CITY — “That was our most complete meet.”
The Utah gymnastics team and its fans have waited all season to hear those six words come from co-head coach Tom Farden. After nearly two months of competition, the Red Rocks were finally able to put together solid performances on all four events against UCLA.
“At this point in the season, our objective as a staff is to start solidifying lineups and getting into a rhythm,” Farden said after last weekend's meet against UCLA. “I think that mission was accomplished.”
Up until a few meets ago, the coaches continuously changed the lineup, hoping they’d find a rhythm. And yet, the Red Rocks still couldn’t get into a groove as meet after meet something unsolicited happened on beam — breaks, wobbles, falls, you name it.
Through the woes, Kari Lee performed weekly walk-through routines in the third or fourth spot of the lineup. Her four wins this season all came on beam. Farden and fellow head coach Megan Marsden decided to turn to the senior to start Utah’s beam lineup with the expectation that she’d give the team confidence on the event.
“I’m lead off on vault and bars so it wasn’t that big of a change,” Lee said of adjusting to her new role on beam. “It’s a lot to take in, but the girls and coaches trust me.”
Her teammates are quick to agree that they trust she’ll hit her routine.
“We’re all so confident in her and she always hits,” MaKenna Merrell-Giles said. “It’s nice to start out with a really solid hit. That’s what Kari does every time.”
“She starts us off really well and makes us feel really confident,” MyKayla Skinner added, describing Lee’s routines as “on fire.”
Farden and Marsden adjusted a few other things to prepare for a solid beam set.
Farden’s signature event is bars, but he’s been involved in Utah’s floor routines and makes the final lineup and coaching decisions on all four events. Marsden has coached beam since she joined the staff 35 years ago, but in the past couple of weeks the head coaching duo decided Farden would be more involved on beam.
“Sometimes the kids get used to an event coach,” Farden said. “Together we decided I would become more involved to see if having a second voice there had any kind of outcome.”
With Farden in the mix came a different type of training. After a rare Monday meet, the team returned to practice on Wednesday and immediately got on beam. The gymnasts describe it as “beam bootcamp,” to which Farden jokingly nicknamed himself as Sargent Farden.
“Megan is the nicest person on the planet and I don’t think I’m that,” Farden explained. “I brought a level of intensity, but I thought it was necessary. I brought a jolt of energy to the beam team.”
That jolt Farden referred to sparked confidence in the team and helped them stop overthinking. In the meet following the change, four of the six gymnasts in the lineup scored season highs as the team scored a season-best 49.375 on the event.
“I think it really helped us,” Lee said.
With Lee up first, Farden said they’re feeling like the lineups are now set as two more regular season meets await, followed by the Pac-12 Championship and the postseason.