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Utah gymnastics: All-around excellence sets the Red Rocks apart

SALT LAKE CITY — At the close of Saturday afternoon’s meet against the No. 15 Washington Huskies, the Red Rocks had more than a few reasons to celebrate.

The 197.700-196.250 win marked the best team score of the season for Utah, continuing a trend of improvement each week.

Not only that, the gymnasts scored their highest marks of the year on both the vault and floor, with room for improvement still.

Take away those accomplishments and there would still be celebration, as All-American MaKenna Merrell-Giles scored a perfect 10.0 on vault, the first of her career and the first by a Ute this season.

Hidden amid all the success, however, was the discovery of a deep and elite group of all-around competitors.

After Saturday’s meet, the Utes boast four gymnasts who have competed in, and excelled at, all-around.

The headliners, of course, are Merrell-Giles, who claimed the all-around title against Washington with a 39.675, a title that doubled as her second this season, and MyKayla Skinner.

Aside from those two stars, the Red Rocks also boast Missy Reinstadtler, who has competed in all-around in all but one meet this year, and Kari Lee, whose 39.375 Saturday earned her third place behind Merrell-Giles and Skinner (39.625).

“You can see with Lee and Skinner, Reinstadtler and (Merrell-Giles) we’ve got four really good all-around choices that other teams are envious of,” co-head coach Tom Farden said.

As they should be.

Both Merrell-Giles and Skinner are ranked in the top five in the country, Skinner fourth and Merrell-Giles fifth. Utah is in fact the only program that boasts two gymnasts in the top-five on all-around.

The drastic improvement and newfound consistency of Merrell-Giles has been one of the premier stories of the season.

“(MaKenna) is in a good spot,” said Farden. “She determined she wanted to have more fun this year. Her preseason was different. I watched her (in preseason) and she was intentional on each turn, didn’t take things for granted. She wanted to prove she could reach her potential.”

It was Lee’s turn in the all-around rotation that came as perhaps the biggest surprise, however.

The All-American has steadily made her way back from multiple injuries suffered during her Utah career and on Saturday, thanks to a sore foot for Reinstadtler, she was able to compete on all four events for the first time all season.

The results were telling, as Lee earned a 9.900 on floor, as well as solid 9.800 and above on the other three events.

“The stars kind of aligned,” said Farden. “We inserted Kari (into all-around), and obviously you saw the results. She was great out there. It was by happenstance that we did that, but it worked in our favor. We are really happy to have Kari back and to have that option.”


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