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Utah gymnastics: No. 3 Red Rocks beat No. 21 Arizona on road, 197.550-196.325

TUCSON, Ariz.—Led by a career night from MaKenna Merrell-Giles, the No. 3 ranked Utes executed a nearly perfect meet in beating No. 21 Arizona 197.550-196.350. It was the highest score of the season for the Utes, who improved to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in Pac-12 play.

While the best scores of the night were a 49.425 on vault and floor, Utah’s performance on the balance beam was the separator. A season-high 49.400 on the beam was punctuated near flawless routines from the first four gymnasts. Leadoff Maddy Stover scored a 9.875, followed by 9.90s from Merrell-Giles and Alexia Birch and a 9.925 by Kari Lee.

“What a way to end a meet—on the the balance beam, on the road against a good Arizona team,” said co-head coach Tom Farden. “It was just outstanding. Overall, the meet was a great dress rehearsal for Pac-12’s,” he added, referring to the Pac-12 Championships that will be held here on March 24.

Certainly, the Utes looked right at home in the McKale Center. Other than a rare bobble on the balance beam by MyKayla Skinner, who failed to win an event for the first time in her career, Utah sailed through 24 routines without a hitch.

“That was a great, excellent night of gymnastics from start to finish,” said Farden. “Our goal was to hit 24 of 24 routines and see where that took us. Counting exhibition routines, we hit 28 (of 28), which shows our depth.”

Merrell-Giles was a triple winner, earning her first career all-around win with a personal-best 39.625 and also tying for first on vault (9.95) and floor (9.925). Lee, in her return to her home state, put on a show for her fan club, winning beam with a 9.925 and tying for first on bars (9.90).

“MaKenna was in a great space today,” said Farden. “She was calm and confident and it showed in her gymnastics. Kari also had her best meet of the year. Really, this was just the kind of team effort we were looking for.”

It came in front of a crowd of 1,702 that included the Utah men’s basketball, in town for a game against the Wildcats tomorrow.

The Utes won every event, starting with a 49.300 on the uneven bars. Lee picked up her first win of the season with a 9.90, while Skinner, Tiffani Lewis, MaKenna Merrell-Giles and Missy Reinstadtler all scored 9.85s on the event.

Utah gained a little on the next rotation, scoring a 49.425 on vault behind a 9.95 from Merrell-Giles and 9.90s from Lee and Skinner. Nonetheless, after two rotations, the meet was tight with Utah hanging on to a 98.725-98.375 lead.

Arizona would struggle on beam where two falls put the Utes in the driver’s seat. While Arizona was falling behind, Utah produced a 49.425 on floor on the wings of Merrell-Giles’ 9.925 and 9.90s from Skinner and Sydney Soloski.

To win the meet, the Utes needed only to stay on the beam, but they did much more than that. In easily Utah’s best beam performance of the year, Lee scored a 9.925 to edge Merrell-Giles and Birch, both with 9.90s. It was the best score of Birch’s young Ute career.

Utah returns home next Saturday for a matinee meet against Washington at 1:30 p.m.