St. Louis • This wasn’t what they envisioned.
What was forecast after that mighty roar of a finish Friday evening, which propelled No. 5 Red Rocks into the Super Six at the NCAA gymnastics championships, was building upon that swagger after the Utes found themselves in a precarious position. To keep it going, they stepped into the spotlight and stomped it.
At the outset Saturday night, however, Utah didn’t look like its typical self. Not on the floor, their dominant event, nor on the vault, which followed. Rather than the typical smiles and loud screams, the Utes peered down toward the floor or stared out at the crowd in the corral, looking shell-shocked by back-to-back season-worst performances with a national championship on the line.
The vibe was off.
“It was kind of sad not being to be able to start off on our best event like the way we’re capable of doing,” said Utah’s super sophomore MyKayla Skinner.
“A little deja vu,” added Utah co-head coach Tom Farden said. “We started off on floor last year at the Super Six, we had some mistakes, and again, we came out and kind of shot ourselves in the foot.”
As swiftly as they shifted their fortunes Friday, Utah’s aspirations of a top finish in its 21st Super Six appearance were under water. The season-long hopes of upsetting reigning national champions, No. 1 Oklahoma, or topping powerhouses like No. 2 LSU or No. 3 UCLA, vanished into the night.
For a second straight year, Utah finished fifth overall in the Super Six. The Utes edged Nebraska 196.900-196.800. It was Utah’s second-lowest team score of the season. Pac-12 rival UCLA pulled off the upset, topping the Sooners to win the title.
“I know we could do a lot better than what we had done tonight,” Skinner said.
The floor exercise was subpar, a team total of 49.1875 the lowest of Utah’s season.
“I just think we were trying too hard,” said All-American junior MaKenna Merrell-Giles. “We just were pressing too much. Just trying too hard to be too perfect instead of having fun and letting it happen.”
Merrell-Giles lost track of the floor during her performance, making a step out bounds, which resulted in a 9.6875, her lowest floor score of the year. That mishap came a day after Merrell-Giles struggled on the balance beam, losing her balance and being forced to step off onto the mat.
With its strongest event done, Utah shifted to the vault and was unable to string together a series of solid scores. Sophomore Kim Tessen was forced to take a big hop upon landing and Merrell-Giles had a hop herself, a 9.7875 being her second-lowest vault routine of the season. And to prove that it wasn’t Utah’s evening, Skinner, the reigning national champion on vault, had a season-low 9.8625.
Farden called the vault Saturday’s “separator event,” as the judges were relying heavily on mid-air shape, amplitude and tight landings.
“We started trying way too hard on vault, to stick every landing, which doesn’t work out well,” Merrell-Giles said.
The Red Rocks went into their first bye quietly, knowing if they wanted to avoid a last-place finish, they’d have to re-center. And to their credit, they did. Utah put together decent performances in uneven bars and balance beam to finish the night. Skinner put together two 9.9 performances in bars (9.9125) and beam (9.925).
During the break, Farden told the Red Rocks to relax, to breathe, to be themselves. They regrouped, but by that time, a national title was beyond their reach.
“I don’t know who’s putting this pressure on you, but it’s not us,” Farden said of his message during the bye. “I definitely think you guys are internalizing things a little too much. And as a result, bars and beam were typical Utah. That’s what we would’ve needed all throughout [the night].”