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Senior gymnasts lead No. 5 Utah Red Rocks over No. 9 Michigan

MyKala Skinner waves to the crowd after scoring a perfect 10 on her floor routine as Utah and Michigan battle it out in Gymnastics at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2019.
MyKala Skinner waves to the crowd after scoring a perfect 10 on her floor routine as Utah and Michigan battle it out in Gymnastics at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 2, 2019.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s gymnastics team came out with a bang on Saturday afternoon against Michigan. And it was no other than senior Kari Lee who sparked the fifth-ranked Red Rocks' best showing of the year in a 197.975-197.35 win over the ninth-ranked Wolverines.

Lee’s season-best 9.925 on vault set the tone for Utah’s meet, but it was far from an easy feat considering the judges don’t always give high scores to the leadoff position. But Lee performed arguably the best vault of her career, fittingly in her last night in the Huntsman Center. She bookended her effort with a career-best-tying 9.925 on floor and kicked off the beam set with another strong effort at 9.9.

“Kari came out of the gates and dropped that vault — I knew it was going to be a good night,” said Utah co-head coach Tom Farden.

As good as Lee was on senior night, her senior teammates were right there with her. MaKenna Merrell-Giles recorded season bests on vault (9.95), floor (9.925) and all-around (39.65), while tying her career best of 9.925 on bars. Meanwhile, Macey Roberts notched a career-best 9.925 on floor.

“I’ve been working all year — just wanted my last time in Huntsman to be one to remember and it was definitely one to remember,” said Roberts about her floor.

“Tonight was emotional, there is nothing like competing in the Huntsman. It doesn’t quite feel real that it was our last meet here,” said Merrell-Giles.

Merrell-Giles is a local product out of Pleasant Grove, Utah, who grew up watching the Red Rocks.

Though the night belonged to the seniors, the biggest takeaway was Utah’s overall performance, which was by far its best of the year. But as good as Utah was, the team believes there is still room to grow.

“We are now starting to hit our stride, knock on wood,” said Farden. “We will do the best we can to keep them sharp this bye week and there are still some things I see that I want to work on. But we are getting there — closer to sticks, execution and beam is getting better.”

Taking a back seat to the seniors, as she wanted to, was MyKayla Skinner. Skinner wanted the night to be about the seniors and for the team to enjoy the last home meet with the group.

The standout produced another outstanding outing that earned her the all-around title with a 39.7. Though the 10.0 from the judges eluded her another day, Skinner enjoyed progress as she notched a 9.975 on floor to end the Red Rocks’ afternoon.

Skinner believed Merrell-Giles was the real MVP of the meet, and thanked the seniors for pushing everyone on the team to be better and for their leadership.

This includes senior Shannon McNatt, who competed in exhibition on beam Saturday.

Skinner added to her career win total by tying with Merrell-Giles on vault (9.95), and Merrell-Giles and Missy Reinstadtler on bars (9.925). She won the floor outright with the 9.975. Michigan dominated the beam title with Lauren Farley, Olivia Karas and Natalie Wojcik going one, two, three with 9.925s.

“Hats off to Michigan,” said Farden.

“They didn’t back down, came in and did a really nice job."

Utah’s been pushed the past two weeks with a loss to No. 2 UCLA a week ago and then the challenge from the Wolverines Saturday. It’s what the team needs heading into the final weeks of the season as it travels to longtime rival No. 7 Georgia before returning for the Pac-12 Championships after the upcoming bye week.


Fans might have noticed changes in Utah's beam music for a few gymnasts. All six played Taylor Swift songs to honor Lee, who is a big fan. Utah also honored its longtime sports information director Liz Abel, who will retire after 36 years with Utah Athletics this July. Abel has been a mainstay and is recognized as one of the best SIDs around the country.