Utah’s second-ranked gymnastics team can claim it has turned a former weakness into a strength halfway through the regular season.
The Utes, who spent a large chunk of their preseason focusing on upgrading and sticking their vaults, rank as the nation’s second-best team on the event with a 49.455 average. Oklahoma is ranked No. 1 with a 49.494 average.
The Utes finished last season with a 49.268 average. It was a decent mark, but low enough that the Utes felt the event was one of their weakest ones. The Utes’ success this season is a huge point of pride for the gymnasts.
“To be first on floor and second on vault, yeah, that is something you can brag about,” MyKayla Skinner said.
The Utes had just one or two gymnasts with 10.0 start values while the rest were 9.9s in the past. MyKayla Skinner, Kim Tessen and MaKenna Merrell-Giles all have 10.0 start value vaults, while the other three are 9.95s this season.
“Right now we are more of a leg team with our vaulting and tumbling,” coach Megan Marsden said.
The Utes are coming off their best performance on the event this season, totaling a 49.625 with Merrell-Giles leading the way with a 10.0 in the win over Washington. Last season’s high mark was 49.475.
But as well as they did, Marsden still sees room for improvement.
“The good news is Kari [Lee], Missy [Reinstadtler] and MyKayla all didn’t stick, so there were a few deductions,” she said. “We’re still working on sticking, and we will continue to do that.”
What helps the Utes this season is the lineup they are using. Reinstadtler has settled in as the leadoff, scoring 9.825 or higher in the last four meets.
Lee, one of the team’s veterans, consistently is earning 9.85s or better. Tiffani Lewis has the reputation for being a big-time vaulter after earning All-America honors on the event last season and has delivered with two 9.9s and a 9.85.
Those three have formed a natural progression for the second half of the lineup that has the 10.0 start values.
“Everyone is building off the other,” Lee said. “You can tell we are in a good place on that event.”
The good place has translated into big scores. The second half of the lineup all earned 9.9 or higher twice out of the last three meets.
“Last year we had Kim get hurt, and she was one of our strongest vaulters, and this year everyone is healthy,” Skinner said. “We are talented on vault, and it is definitely showing.”
Staying healthy, of course, is a huge key to success. The Utes don’t have much depth that would help keep the level of difficulty high if a starter goes down.
Shannon McNatt has a 10.0 vault, but her training has been slowed by plantar fasciitis. Walk-on Lauren Wong has a 10.0 vault that isn’t ready this season but hopefully can be next season.
The Utes aren’t too worried about the what-ifs; for now, they are enjoying their present success.
“Missy gets the ball rolling for us with a huge vault,” Merrell-Giles said. “Kari is textbook perfect, and Tiffani’s vault is mind-blowing. Kim is great, and then with me, I try to set up MyKayla, who is the icing on the cake. We are feeding off each other.”
Team • Average • High
1. Oklahoma • 49.494 • 49.575
2. Utah • 49.455 • 49.625
3. Florida • 49.3 • 49.5
4. LSU • 49.245 • 49.35
5. UCLA • 49.22 • 49.5