St. Louis • They huddled up on the center of the floor, like they’d done all the times prior, both at home inside the Huntsman Center and in various gyms around the country. They formed the same circle, cheered the same cheer, belted screams down toward the mat that the Utes rock the house.
In reality, all they needed to do was rock one event: their last of the night, the one where they’re at their best this season, where their list of All-American talents often shine the brightest. A legit showing on the floor was necessary, because if not, if the No. 5 Red Rocks could not do what they’re used to doing now. They would’ve been downloading boarding passes a day early and packing up their bags for the last time this season.
But Utah rallied, showing why they’re staying in St. Louis. The Utes showed why they get to compete for a national championship for the 21st time in the past 25 years on Saturday evening. After a shaky balance beam routine that left the Red Rocks in more of a stressful position than desired, they ended the night on the floor.
That’s where co-head coach Tom Farden said he saw his team, “Trust the gymnastics a little bit more, and kind of let it fly.”
And the Red Rocks flew and will fly again Saturday night.
Utah advanced third in Friday night’s second semifinal thanks to a stellar floor exercise, again punching another ticket to a Super Six final. The Red Rocks finished with a score of 197.1375, behind No. 1 Oklahoma (198.0500) and No. 4 Florida (197.5875).
That trio of teams will meet No. 2 LSU, No. 4 UCLA and No. 7 Nebraska, which advanced out of the first semifinal event Friday inside Chafeitz Arena.
Asked how many emotions she’d dealt with throughout the night after helping the Red Rocks march on, sophomore Missy Reinstadtler took a deep breath and then said, “All of them.”
It was a little too close for comfort, all admitted. Utah junior All-American MaKenna Merrell-Giles lost her balance during her balance beam routine, eventually being forced to step off onto the mat. Reinstadtler said the beam got her heart pumping faster than normal. Freshman Sydney Soloski said her stomach dropped. Sophomore MyKayla Skinner, who paced the Utes again, said she felt butterflies in her stomach when it was her turn.
“We were in survival mode,” said Soloski.
The Red Rocks had to get to their second bye of the night. They utilized the break to breathe easier, to let the gymnastics return, as Farden mentioned, to not let the hype of the evening linger. The Utes, Reinstadtler explained, had spent much of the night “trying to be too perfect.” So once they stepped out onto the floor, they let it all go.
The tentativeness on vault, the struggles on the beam, they were all gone. Soloski said they forced themselves to chill, waiting for the mix of adrenaline and anxiety on the beam dissipate. One-by-one, needing to nail the sort of routine it usually does in order to keep the dream of Super Six alive, the Red Rocks delivered.
Senior Tiffani Lewis came through, then redshirt junior Kari Lee followed. Reinstadtler’s 9.8875 on the floor saw Farden point to the Utah section asking them to get on their feet. Next came Soloski, whose 9.9125, kept the momentum rolling uphill.
“Floor is our comfort zone.” Reinstadtler said.
Skinner’s last routine was the punctuation mark, a 9.9375 that proved to be icing on the cake after the Utes had guaranteed the third spot. Their 49.4625 tied for the second-best floor score of the day, second only to Oklahoma’s.
“I know we’re a killer floor team,” said Skinner, who finished as a co-national vault champion and repeated as the runner up in the all-around.
The Red Rocks proved it when it mattered most.
As Farden said, they were “wounded, but not out of it” after one of their lowest beam scores of the year (49.1125). Instead of being swallowed up by the weight of the evening, Utah stepped to the center of the floor, did its absolute best to forget about what might’ve gone wrong before or what could go wrong in the present, tuned it all out, and embraced its comfort zone.