WEST VALLEY CITY — “The meet of our lives.”
That refrain was echoed often by Utah’s gymnasts heading into Saturday night’s Pac-12 Gymnastics Championships.
The Red Rocks accepted, even anticipated that it would take the team’s collective and absolute best to bring home the conference title, just as it had in 2014, ‘15 and ‘17.
“That is pretty much what this comes down to,” MyKayla Skinner said. “Who is the best at this moment, who is going to get the job done.”
For many of Utah’s gymnasts, Saturday night's competition — the second of two sessions hosted at the Maverik Center — was just that.
Six Red Rocks recorded or matched career-highs, including Hunter Dula, Kim Tessen, Macey Roberts, Kari Lee, Adrienne Randall and Skinner.
Skinner even scored that elusive perfect 10, on floor exercise, en route to a second-place finish in the all-around (39.75).
The result was a team score of 198.025, by far Utah’s season’s best.
And yet, the UCLA Bruins were better.
UCLA defeated Utah 198.400-198.025 Saturday night, the Bruins' second win over Utah in a month.
Kyla Ross — the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year — led the way with a 39.80 in the all-around, that included two 10s, one on bars, another on the floor.
Katelyn Ohashi, meanwhile, added a perfect 10 of her own with her floor routine.
Those outings, coupled with additional stellar performances courtesy of Felicia Hano, Gracie Kramer, Pauline Tratz and Madison Kocian, proved too much for the Utes to overcome.
“That is the best gymnastics team in the country. I haven’t seen a better team,” Utah co-head coach Tom Farden said of UCLA. “They are a bit of a freight team right now, and I don’t know if they have brakes.”
Still, with a season-best outing and a team score of 198 in hand, the Red Rocks couldn’t be happier.
“There is nothing to be upset about,” said MaKenna Merrell-Giles. “We gave it our all, fought to the end and no one gave up. I am so happy with that. Regardless of the outcome, a 198 is amazing.”
“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that was absolutely spectacular,” Farden added. “They didn’t back down. They embraced that challenge and fought to the bitter end. If we can keep performing like that we have the opportunity to surprise some people.”
The Utes started the meet in season-best fashion, on uneven bars no less.
Paced by Skinner, who recorded a 9.95, plus a pair of career highs courtesy of Dula (9.9) and Tessen (9.925), the Red Rocks roared out to a season-high score of 49.575 on the event.
It was the best start the team could have asked for.
“I don’t think we could have done better,” Farden said. “That is by far our best bar set this year.”
Skinner put the Red Rocks’ hot start in even simpler terms.
“We started out on bars doing frickin' awesome,” she said. “Like, oh my gosh, we killed it.”
Following that unprecedented bars set, the Red Rocks came back to reality on balance beam, as a bevy of balance checks led to a score of 49.300.
“(Beam) has been our Achilles heel,” Farden said, “but I told them to fight to the finish. I told them we were in this thing and we were going to fight to the end.”
That fight was showcased on floor, where the Utes had yet another season-best showing with a 49.700.
Roberts led off the rotation with a career-high 9.95, a score she described as “unbelievable.”
More unbelievable was the final routine of the rotation, performed by Skinner.
“I have been trying to get a 10 all season,” Skinner said. “I went out there and did it. That was really special.”
“She was in her element,” Farden added. “That 10 was well deserved and a long time coming.”
Utah closed out the competition on vault, with a 49.450, but a 49.775 floor rotation by the Bruins put the meet out of reach.
DROP THAT MIC. 🎤@katelyn_ohashi debuted her new floor routine and music at tonight at the #Pac12Gym Championships.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 24, 2019
Oh yeah, and she won...with a 🔟, of course. 💁🏻♀️
The @uclagymnastics senior takes home the @OpusBank #12Best moment of the meet. pic.twitter.com/V8oQb25eAC
Even so, the loss did little to dampen the Red Rocks' belief in their prospects at nationals.
In fact, it may have buoyed their title aspirations all the more.
“That was some of our best work and I definitely believe we can do it again,” Merrell-Giles said.
“This will push us even harder to go for nationals and give it our all,” added Roberts. “With this meet, it’s like ‘OK, when are we going to peak?’ It is going to be at nationals. I know for sure.”
While UCLA and Utah finished first and second, respectively, Oregon State came in third with a team score of 196.600. California placed fourth with a 196.575, while Arizona State, which took first place in the afternoon session, finished in fifth place with a 196.400.