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SALT LAKE CITY — The No. 5-ranked Utah gymnastics team didn’t skip a beat after a bye week, besting Arizona State Friday night in the Huntsman Center 197.050-194.300 behind a career night from five Utes.
The Red Rocks continued their undefeated season (5-0), and notched their first Pac-12 victory of the year, the seventh straight victory in a conference opener.
In the first rotation, Alexia Burch got the home team rolling when she scored a near-perfect 9.950 on the vault, drawing a deafening roar from the 15,558 sell-out crowd — it was the best vault score of the junior’s career. Senior Kim Tessen followed Burch with another strong effort, notching a 9.925.
“I kind of started crying, it just was an unreal feeling,” Burch said. “When it hits you, it’s just shocking and overwhelming — all sorts of emotions were there.”
“We just wanted it so bad,” Emilie LeBlanc said after the team swarmed Burch following her vault. "Everyone wants a stick and the crowd goes wild. Everyone loves it — it’s impossible to find someone that doesn’t like a nice big vault that hits that landing no matter what. It was incredible."
Utah head coach Tom Farden said he wasn’t happy about his team’s performance to start the first exercise, but Burch changed the course of the meet.
"We were very sluggish," Farden said. "Then Alexia hit that vault and really turned things around and it felt like we got some momentum, which Kim obviously built off that on another incredible vault."
Burch said she had been training the particular vault routine since the beginning of the summer and decided to unveil the more difficult exercise Friday after landing it in practice 15 to 20 times.
"It’s a pretty difficult vault, just because it’s a blind landing," Burch said. "Trying to find that landing is a bit more difficult than a full, and I’ve completed a full most of my life."
Utah dominated the uneven parallel bars, edging out Arizona State by a score of 49.275 to 47.775, thanks to strong performances from sophomores Isa and Hunter Dula, each scoring 9.925. The mark was Dula’s career-best and matched Isa’s career-high.
Tying her career best wasn’t going to cut it for Isa, though, who notched another career-best, a 9.900, on the floor exercise. The well-performed routine only inspired the Utes to become more dominant as the night wore on — the third and fourth rotations saw Utah take the top five of the top six marks in the balance beam and four of the top six spots in the floor exercise.
Utah improves to 37-2 in its history against Arizona State when facing the Sun Devils at home, 78-16-1, overall. The Sun Devils have not beat the Utes in Salt Lake City since 2003.
Two weeks ago, at the Rio Tinto Best of Utah, where the Utes faced off against BYU, Southern Utah and Utah State, Utah scored a 197.000 — becoming just one of three teams in the nation to reach the 197-mark this season.
"This is an extremely talented team and they have a lot of potential," Farden said. "If we can compete with confidence and sustain scoring, just go boom, boom, boom and build of each other, it’s a dangerous team."
"I’m proud of the team’s thirst to get to where we want to be," LeBlanc said. "We want to win nationals, we want to get there, so we just have to show it now."
The Red Rocks now set their sights on No. 22-ranked Arizona on faces Saturday, Feb. 1 in Tucson, Arizona.
"I’m actually excited to go on the road and show people what we can score," Burch said. "It’s definitely a little bit harder to get big scores on the road because you’re not that home team with our 15,000 fans roaring, but I’m excited."