Utah hosted their annual Red Rocks preview at the Huntsman Center on Friday night in front of 5,100 adoring fans on Friday. All 12 Utes on the roster showed at least two events and Co-head Coach Tom Farden was pleased with the performances he saw. Watch routine videos from the exhibition HERE.
Release via Utah Athletics
SALT LAKE CITY—A crowd of 5,100 turned out to the Red Rocks Preview looking for an early glimpse of what lies ahead for the 2018 Utah gymnastics team. If the exhibition meet is any indication, the Utes will be in the hunt for a national title come April.
"I don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but if we can build on last year (when the Utes finished fifth at the NCAA Championships), we're going to be right up there at nationals," said co-coach Tom Farden.
We looked calm and confident and I liked our demeanor. We've had quite the collection of 'type A' personalities for several years now and (our gymnasts) have been highly motivated and hungry. The difference this year is our maturity. We were really young last year.
"We have great team chemistry and we really want to finish in the top three at nationals," said defending NCAA floor champion and all-around runner-up MyKayla Skinner, who looks ready to add to her individual national championship portfolio from her standout performance at the Red Rocks Preview.
Added All-America senior Tiffani Lewis, "We want to set a high standard for Utah gymnastics right away. The Red Rocks Preview is important because it's a nice little test for nerves, but we're not competing in front of as many people as in a regular season meet and there are no judges so it's not as stressful."
All 12 Utes currently available performed on at least two events with Skinner, Lewis, Kari Lee, MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Missy Reinstadtler and Kim Tessen going all-around.
Lee and Tessen have been slowly working back into the leg events of vault and floor while recovering from injuries—Lee's which severely limited her during Utah's fifth-place NCAA run last year and Tessen's which cost her most of her freshman season. Tessen's floor routine at the Red Rocks Preview was one of several by the Utes that was watered down from what it will become as the season progresses.
In a change from last year, when the Utes essentially followed a normal meet format, there were the equivalent of six rotations in this year's version of the annual exhibition. The entire team moved from vault to bars with eight performers on each apparatus. Skinner was magnificent on both events, nailing her 10.0 valued Yurchenko double on vault and sailing through a bar routine that featured an additional release move from a year ago. Tessen and Merrill-Giles also threw 10.0 valued Yurchenko one and a half vaults, with Tessen's close to perfect.
"MyKayla is a world-class athlete," said Farden when asked to comment on Skinner's performance quality this early in the year. "She has added a new leap combination on beam (switch leg leap to a straddle jump to a tuck back) and nailed it, her vault was gigantic and she added a release move to bars that now gives her three. She probably would have gone out of bounds on floor (had she not been spotted), but we're OK with that right now."
It wasn't all the MyKayla Skinner show, however. Reinstadtler showed why her coaches are projecting her as a contender for national titles on her four routines, Merrell-Giles also excelled on all four events, Lewis was especially impressive on bars and floor and Maddy Stover had a dynamite beam routine.
The two freshmen available also showed promise. Sydney Soloski nailed a double layout on both bars (on her dismount) and floor (on her opening pass) and Alexia Burch did a walk through beam routine. Freshman Lauren Wong will join the team in January.
Fans at the Red Rocks Preview enjoyed a rare opportunity to watch the meet from a new vantage point. Seating for the exhibition meet was general admission, unlike the regular season, where more than 9,000 reserved season tickets have already been sold. Many stayed afterwards patiently waiting as the Ute gymnasts signed the 2018 team poster.
The Utes will open their 2018 season against BYU on Sat., Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.