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Utah gymnastics: Red Rocks show their championship potential on off night

SALT LAKE CITY — It can be easy to forget at times, especially with the way the 2018 season has gone, but the No. 2 Red Rocks are human.

Their elite ranking and high-end statistics — here’s looking at you, floor and vault — might suggest otherwise, but they are fallible.

As co-head coach Tom Farden said, tongue in cheek, following their meet against the No. 17 Arizona State Sun Devils, “They are humans. They are kids. They are closer to believing in Santa Claus than they are to getting a mortgage.”

The Utes' humanity reared its perfectly ordinary head Friday night at a jam-packed Huntsman Center (announced attendance was 15,207), though in the case of Utah gymnastics, perfectly ordinary meant a 197.075-195.400 victory over a ranked conference opponent.

“I was worried about this meet,” said Farden. “I call it a trap meet. They have been cruising (through the season) at a pretty high octane (level). I didn’t know if they were going to overlook Arizona State, who is much improved, and look forward to the UCLA thing (Utah travels to No. 4 UCLA next weekend). We try to take it day by day, meet by meet and turn by turn, but we let our guard down a little bit tonight.”

To his point, the Red Rocks failed to hit on all 24 routines for the second week in a row and when they did hit, their scores were noticeably lower than what they have proven themselves capable of.

As a result, Utah posted season-low team scores on floor and vault, earning a 49.300 on both events (the Utes scored a 49.250 on bars and a 49.225 on beam, pretty standard scores this year).

On floor, normally solid Macey Roberts fell during a tumbling pass. Later in the rotation, Missy Reinstadtler, earned a 0.10 point deduction when she stepped out of bounds.

On vault, the scores were just low, lower than they had been all season long.

Making matters worse, stalwart MaKenna Merrell-Giles fell on beam, after which she noted “falling flat-out stinks. There is no other word for it.”

The night easily could have been a disaster.

“They could have closed it in,” said Farden. “They could have wobbled all over the place on beam after (MaKenna). They could have closed shop after (Macey).”

Instead, all the Red Rocks did was come through time after time, ultimately earning another 197.000, their fifth of the season.

In doing so, they proved, yet again, that they have the makings of something special.

“(We) definitely had highs and lows (tonight),” said Merrell-Giles. “The lows were very low and the highs brought us back up.”

“We fought through everything,” added Kari Lee.

Leading the fight was MyKayla Skinner.

The sophomore star was excellent all evening, proving the perfect anchor to hold down the ship through the storm.

Skinner scored a 9.000 or better on every event. Her 9.950 on floor was her best score of the evening en route to a 39.675 and the all-around title.

“She was in a good element tonight. She was brilliant,” Farden said of Skinner. “She had a great meet, a great meet.”

Making her performance all the more impressive was her struggles, if you can call them that, over the past few weeks.

“She was trying to be perfect,” said Farden. “We just tried to tell her to let it happen. Don’t press.”

“I’ve been really hard on myself lately because I had such a great season last year,” added Skinner. “When I went back into the gym this week I tried to have more fun with it.”

In addition to Skinner, Lee was consistently great on all four events, posting a 9.850 or better on each apparatus.

“(Kari) has obviously proved herself. She has proven that she deserves to be in the all-around,” said Farden.

The performance of that duo, not to mention Kim Tessen, who scored a 9.900 on bars and Merrell-Giles, who bounced back from her fall with a hair-raising 9.925 on floor, proved to be exactly what the Red Rocks needed on their off night.

“I think (tonight) says a lot about our potential,” said Merrell-Giles “We had mistakes, but for the team to come back and for us to still hit 197.075 with more than one mistake shows how much potential we have.”

“We still have a lot of time to improve and those little details will come eventually,” added Skinner. “We will get there.”

“They are fighters,” said Farden. “This team has what it takes to dig deep and reach its potential.”

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