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BYU gymnasts open season Friday at Utah; SUU and USU begin seasons next week

BYU's Mackenzie Douglas performs a floor routine at the Marriott Center in Provo on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.
BYU's Mackenzie Douglas performs a floor routine at the Marriott Center in Provo on Friday, Jan. 13, 2017.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The BYU gymnastics team opens its season Friday at No. 5 Utah. The Cougars were picked to finish tied for third with fellow in-state squad Utah State in the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference (MRGC) preseason poll. Boise State and Southern Utah were selected ahead of the Cougars and Aggies. In the national coaches’ preseason poll, BYU was voted No. 34.

Guard Young enters his third season at the helm of the Cougars, who concluded last year with their highest regional score in 12 years. Young has a youthful team comprised of 16 underclassmen and eight upperclassmen, but the squad looks to continue building on its recent successes.

Seniors Mackenzie Douglas and Brittni Hawes will be key contributors for the Cougars. Douglas is coming off the 2017 conference vault title, while Hawes ranks second all-time on bars (9.95) in the Cougar record books.

Fellow senior Jill van Mierlo is as tough as anyone when she’s healthy, and sophomore Shannon Hortman Evans is looking for another solid campaign in the all-around after earning conference freshman-of-the-year honors.

There’s also a pair of Abbys who will lead a strong group of freshmen. Abbey Miner was the Utah state vault champion in 2014 and 2017, while walk-on Abby Boden turned heads in BYU’s Blue and White meet with her success in all four events. The Cougars have seven in-state athletes on their team, including freshmen Abby Beeston, Allegra Clarkson, Miner, Haley Pitou and Aspen Welch, and sophomores Hortman Evans and Hannah Miller.

Here is a quick look at the other two local teams from the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference.

Southern Utah

Southern Utah will get some extra training days before opening its season at No. 13 Boise State on Jan. 11. The 24th-ranked Flippin’ Birds look to dethrone the reigning league champion Broncos, and likely have the best shot of the MRGC teams.

But 2018 will be a different year than a season ago, as SUU looks to rebuild after graduating six seniors who became the program’s most successful class. That group broke records and led the team across the 197.0 mark for the first time in school history (197.025 on March 3, 2017).

This year’s squad features 17 underclassmen and only four upperclassmen. But the sophomore class includes three locals all expected to continue thriving. Autumn Jorgensen, and twins Madison and Megan McBride all trained together at All-American Gymnastics in Lindon, Utah, before joining SUU last year.

Jorgensen won the floor event at the MRGC championships and was a force on floor last year, tying the school record of 9.95 twice. Madison’s best event is bars, where she already ranks second all-time at SUU. Megan’s strongest event is vault.

Southern Utah is coached by Scott Bauman, who is in his 27th year with the Flippin’ Birds.

Utah State

The Aggies begin a new era with first-year coach Amy Smith. Smith, who was a captain for UCLA’s first NCAA women’s championship team in 1997, looks to keep USU moving forward. Her predecessor, Nadalie Walsh, led the Aggies to four-straight NCAA regional appearances after the program struggled in the years prior to her arrival. Utah State finished second at the 2017 MRGC championships.

The 32nd-ranked Aggies open their season Jan. 13 at Bowling Green. The squad of 18 includes eight freshmen and seven returning letterwinners.

Two locals are on Utah State’s roster in sophomore Brittany Jeppesen and freshman Annie Beck. Junior Madison Ward is expected to lead USU, with MaKayla Bullitt and Jazmyn Estrella also contributing.