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Utah gymnastics: Red Rocks making history early in season

SALT LAKE CITY — This past Friday’s meet against Oregon State was a first in many ways for the Red Rocks. It was the Pac-12 opener. It was the first time a Ute Proud event was held at a gymnastics meet, which the gymnasts honored by wearing speciality leotards.

It was the competitive season debut of freshman Lexi Burch, as well as the first opportunity for freshman and Salt Lake City native Lauren Wong to run out onto the Huntsman Center floor to thunderous applause.

All of those firsts were worthy of recognition, but after All-American MaKenna Merrell-Giles' vault on the opening rotation, the night became something else.

Starting with Merrell-Giles’ 9.950 on vault, the Red Rocks made the meet against the Beavers a record-setting event.

Eight Utah gymnasts set new season and/or career highs Friday night, led by MyKayla Skinner. The sophomore set a new career-high (at least as far as her collegiate career is concerned) on bars with a 9.975. She followed that up with a season-best score on beam, a 9.925.

Merrell-Giles' vault was her career-best as well, as was Burch’s beam routine (in fairness, Burch was performing the first ever competitive routine of her college career).

Tiffani Lewis and Kim Tessen each tied their career-high on an event, Lewis on floor with a 9.925 and Tessen on bars with a 9.850, while Kari Lee (9.875) and Missy Reinstadtler (9.800) each added season-highs on beam.

Perhaps the most noteworthy record of the night, however, belonged to freshman Sydney Soloski.

The Canadian dynamo was just that on floor, turning in a routine that earned a 9.925, a career-high.

Not only that, but the score left Soloski tied with Lewis and Merrell-Giles for the highest-scoring floor exercise of the night.

“It is very exciting that she is making a big splash on that event,” co-head coach Megan Marsden said.

A big splash indeed. Soloski is the only Utah gymnast currently performing a double-layout on floor, a fact both Marsden and fellow head coach Tom Farden are thrilled about.

“You can’t deny that E-level skill,” said Marsden. “We don’t have anyone else right now doing a double-lay. It is exciting for her to offer that up within our six girls on floor lineup and perform it well.”

“Who doesn’t like a high floating double-layout,” Farden added. “I think we are a better team with Sydney, so I think we will (keep her in the lineup). She is a dynamic performer out there and an excellent dancer. She is a little spark plug.”

WHEN YOU MOVE: For the first time in two weeks, Utah is no longer the No. 2 ranked team in the country. That honor belongs to the LSU Tigers, who were bumped from their spot at the top by the defending champion Oklahoma Sooners. Utah comes in at a solid No. 3 in the national rankings, followed by Pac-12 rival UCLA and SEC schools Florida and Kentucky.

Of note is the fact that each and every opponent the Red Rocks have faced this season are currently ranked in the top 25. In addition to No. 4 UCLA, Washington is No. 14, Oregon State is No. 18, BYU is No. 22 and Stanford comes in at No. 23.

THE OTHER SIDE: Another season-first occurred on Tuesday for Utah, Skinner was not named the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week. That honor instead went to Stanford’s Elizabeth Price, who won the all-around against Arizona State with a 39.775. Price scored a 9.950 on three events against the Sun Devils, in addition to 9.925 on floor.

Skinner was nominated for the award, as was Soloski, for Freshman/Newcomer and Specialist of the Week, that is.


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