Utah’s gymnastics team didn’t hesitate when deciding which event to begin its Pac-12 Championships effort, picking the uneven bars, the event the Utes start on when they are in dual road meets.
Top-seeded UCLA not surprisingly selected the vault for its opener in Saturday’s competition in Tucson.
“I really think our bars team has improved through the season,” Utah coach Megan Marsden said. “We have done the rotation a lot, so it should be good for us.”
Utah scored a season high 49.45 on the bars in its 198.15-196.35 win over Georgia in the regular-season finale.
“We started on bars last year, and I like it because you go bars and beam and get the intricate events out of the way,” junior Kari Lee said. “You can finish with a bang on floor and vault. Throw us anywhere, and we are going to be fine, but we love starting on bars.”
The Utes will compete in the evening session, which begins at 7, along with third-ranked UCLA, No. 8 Washington and No. 10 Cal. The 2 p.m. session includes No. 11 Oregon State, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 30 Stanford and No. 37 Arizona.
Both sessions will be televised on the Pac-12 Networks.
The Utes won the conference title in 2017 as well as 2014 and 2015.
While the Utes don’t put an emphasis on individual success, Utah has done well in the conference all-around competition, winning four of the five all-around awards.
MyKayla Skinner, the defending champion, is ranked second nationally in the all-around with a 39.685 average behind Oklahoma’s Maggie Nichols (39.83).
The other Pac-12 athletes ranked in the top 10 are Stanford’s Elizabeth Price, who is No. 3 (39.67), UCLA’s Kyla Ross, who is seventh (39.6), and Utah’s MaKenna Merrell-Giles, who is eighth (39.575).
Even though the Utes don’t stress the individual competition, Marsden noted wins are a nice byproduct in the team effort.
“I know at times it gets frustrating with the scores, but that is the nature of the sport,” Marsden said about Skinner. “MyKayla deserves every honor that comes her way. I’ve never worked with an athlete who is as amazing as that young woman, and she does it week in and week out.”
Skinner also is fifth on the vault (9.93), 10th on the bars (9.92) and third on the floor (9.6). Merrell-Giles is sixth on the floor (9.94).
Skinner also won the floor title and tied teammate Tiffani Lewis for the vault title last year but was passed over for the Gymnast of the Year and Freshman of the Year conference awards.
While Utah supporters were in an ire about the slight, Skinner said she has come to terms with it, and it hasn’t served as motivation this season.
“I’ve accomplished so much and there are so many things in life, if I don’t get it, it isn’t the worst thing that could happen,” she said. “I won’t let it affect me.”
In the rankings
Top-ranked Oklahoma is the only team averaging above 198 with a 198.12 regional qualifying score, while Utah remains in fourth with a 197.54. Brigham Young is No. 20 with a 196.43 mark and Southern Utah is No. 31 with a 195.915.
Utah State still is out of the cut of 36 teams that advance to regionals, sitting at No. 38 with a 195.575.
The Utes are fourth on the vault (49.1), seventh on the uneven bars (49.32), eighth on the balance beam (49.315) and fourth on the floor (49.52).
Around the state
While the Utes are in the Pac-12s, SUU, Utah State and BYU will be competing at the Mountain Rim Gymnastics Championships hosted by SUU.
Boise State has won the past three titles and heads into the conference championships on a high note after its last home meet when it scored a 197, the ninth-highest score in the program’s history, to defeat Washington (196.95) and BYU (196.375).
Despite the recent loss to the Broncos, the Cougars can’t be overlooked since they consistently have been good this season. Their recent road score was one of the highest of the season for the program, and the Cougars had a season-high 49.1 on vault.
USU, which finished second in the conference meet last season, is coming off a season-high 196.5-195.75 win over SUU.
Team • Scoring average
1. Oklahoma • 198.12
2. LSU • 197.89
3. UCLA • 197.84
4. Utah • 197.54
5. Florida • 197.365
6. Alabama • 197.165
7. Michigan • 197.075
8. Washington • 196.915
9. Kentucky • 196.8
10. California • 196.775
11. Arkansas • 196.765
t-11. Oregon State • 196.765
13. Denver • 196.675
14. Nebraska • 196.66
15. Boise State • 196.65
16. Auburn • 196.595
17. Arizona State • 196.51
18. Georgia • 196.47
19. George Washington • 196.46
20. BYU • 196.43
21. Missouri • 196.375
22. North Carolina State • 196.3
23. Minnesota • 196.16
24. Ohio State • 196.085
25. West Virginia • 196.07