FORT WORTH, Texas — Heading into Friday’s national semifinal, the first of two held at the Fort Worth Convention Center, Utah gymnastics had high hopes that it could outperform its seed.
The Red Rocks entered the contest as the third seed in the competition, behind both UCLA and LSU, and ahead of Michigan.
A top-two finish was the goal, and with it a position in Saturday’s four-team championship final.
That goal went unfulfilled.
In fact, the Utes underperformed.
Utah finished in fourth place Friday afternoon, behind UCLA (197.6750), LSU (197.5125) and Michigan (197.2000), with a final score of 196.7250.
It was Utah’s lowest team score of the year, a low enough total to end the Red Rocks’ season prematurely.
“This was a hell of a competition,” Utah co-head coach Tom Farden said. “This team was right in the thick of things.”
“We wanted to bring it today, to make it to tomorrow,” added senior Kari Lee, trailing off. “We always fight for the end, what the end goal is, and that is to be in the top four… this is so sad.”
Utah actually came out to a roaring start to begin the competition, at least in comparison to their opponents.
Utah recorded five scores 9.8 and above on floor exercise, highlighted by MyKayla Skinner’s 9.9375. MaKenna Merrell-Giles added a 9.8750 for the Utes, who finished with a 49.3125.
That score, while well below their season best, was tops among all four teams, ahead of Michigan’s 49.3000 on uneven bars and UCLA’s 49.2875 on vault. LSU, meanwhile, struggled on beam and recorded a 49.1875.
“We went out there and nailed it on floor,” Skinner said.
The Utes then moved to vault, their strongest event this season, and once again Merrell-Giles and Skinner were on top of their game.
Merrell-Giles earned a 9.900 and Skinner followed with a 9.9250.
The rest of the rotation underperformed, however, leaving Utah with a 49.2250, the lowest score of any team in the second rotation.
That put Utah in fourth place after two rotations, well off its initial pace.
Things improved dramatically on uneven bars, however, as Utah posted its best event score of the competition.
The Utes were buoyed by solid performances from Merrell-Giles (9.875) and Missy Reinstadtler (9.8625), before Skinner busted out a team-best 9.9125.
“After vault, I told the girls it is hard to not look at the scores, but we are right in this,” said Farden. “Bars turned out our best event. Bars were great.”
The Red Rocks’ 49.3250 was a significant improvement in a meet that was going to be decided by “fractions,” per Farden, but the effort still left Utah trailing all three teams heading into the final rotation.
It was on beam where the team was forced to try to save its season and ultimately the Red Rocks came up short.
No single Ute earned a score at or above their average, as even regular stalwarts Merrell-Giles and Skinner struggled. Merrell-Giles fell, in fact, on the final routine of her Ute career, while Skinner’s 9.7750 was her season low.
The poor performance proved the proverbial nail in the coffin as Utah recorded a meet-low 48.8625.
“That last rotation, we just pressed too much.” said Farden. “I told the girls that this is hard to swallow and we are all going to upset here for a little while, but it just wasn’t our day on balance beam.”14 comments on this story
“It would have been nice to finish with our best,” Skinner added. “It is really hard to end on beam. It is so nerve-wracking. It was hard because inside we knew the scores were close, but when you have six people in a lineup that have to hit every event, it is hard. That is not easy.”
“We are all disappointed,” added Lee. “We all think we could have done better.”
Still, the season was a success as far as the Red Rocks were concerned, early exit or no.
“I’m really proud of the fight of the team and everything we went through,” said Skinner. “Beam was rough, but I told the team that we were, we are, freaking amazing.”