SALT LAKE CITY — With just 12 gymnasts, soon to be 13 (freshman and recent Skyline High graduate Lauren Wong is set to join the team Thursday, Jan. 11, and is eligible to compete immediately), the Red Rocks boast one of the smallest rosters in the country. At their current number, they have the smallest group in the Pac-12 — UCLA leads the way with 24 — and the Red Rocks trail national title contenders like LSU (17), Florida (14) and Oklahoma (16).
Small rosters have been the modus operandi of Utah gymnastics, quality over quantity, but the practice has left the Utes vulnerable to injuries, making health a paramount concern.
As a result, co-head coaches Megan Marsden and Tom Farden have taken a conservative approach to any and all possible injuries, especially early in the season.
Case in point, All-American Kari Lee.
The junior has dealt with her share of injuries during her tenure at Utah. Lee missed 10 meets in 2016 to injury, and when she pulled up a tad gimpy prior to the Deseret Duel rivalry meet against BYU, the decision was made to remove her from both the vault and floor events.
“I noticed (my calf cramping up) during the second-to-last vault of the 15-minute warmup,” said Lee. “Usually it will relax and I don’t know if it was because of the situation, but it never had the chance to relax. By the time we got to the floor (to warm up) it just kind of balled up.”
According to Lee, had the meet taken place later in the season she would have competed in the all-around, but as it was the opening meet of the year, the decision was made to be cautious.
“The coaches made the ultimate decision to hold me back,” said Lee. “It was the first meet of the season. It would have been different if it was later on.”
As for why she was able to compete on both the bars and beam, despite the injury, Lee explained that “for vault and floor, it’s the angle on which you take off, when you punch. (Those events put) more stress on your calves and Achilles. On beam it is softer, more calm even. You do take off on that foot and leg, and I did feel it a little bit, but not as much as I would on vault.”
Freshman Sydney Soloski competed in Lee’s place on the floor and did so admirably, recording a 9.85 on her first-ever event as a Ute.
“I was just really excited to go out there and have a score that would count,” said Soloski. “I cannot think of a better moment in my gymnastics career. Getting to do what I love, in front of 15,000 fans, with my team, that is something I had never had before. Hearing the crowd cheer (like that) is something I had never experienced. It was so cool.”
PERFECT NO MORE: Eight-time All-American and reigning Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week MyKayla Skinner experienced a first in her Red Rocks career against BYU — she stepped out of bounds on her floor routine.
“It’s gonna happen once in a while,” said Skinner. “I was a little tired at the end (of the meet) and went a little too hard.”
Fatigue certainly played a role in the miscue, but the real culprit was illness.
“I was kind of sick,” said Skinner. “I really hadn’t trained that many routines and especially with Christmas, I’d only done one (floor) routine.”
Despite her illness, Skinner, for the most part, maintained her championship form and is currently ranked in the top 10 in the country on beam, bars and vault.
More importantly, she is on the mend.
“I'm feeling better.” said Skinner. “My energy is back.”