No. 3 Red Rocks work to beat BYU gymnasts for 40th straight time

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah's MyKayla Skinner during her floor routine as No. 3 University of Utah gymnastics team meets BYU gymnastics at the Marriot Center, Jan. 10, 2019.

Provo • Utah’s winning streak over the BYU Cougars in gymnastics remains intact, but it didn’t remain so without a hard-fought effort Friday.

The third-ranked Utes, who defeated BYU 197.25-196.475 in the Marriott Center for their 40th straight win in the series, found themselves in an unexpected close meet with the Cougars in the third rotation.

The Utes led 98.65-98.125 at the halfway point, but a few lower-than-normal scores on the floor combined with a strong showing by the Cougars on the balance beam put the Utes in a pressure position, leading just 137.825-137.575 with two routines to go.

Since Adrienne Randall stumbled on her first floor pass and scored just 9.625, the Utes (2-0) had to have their last two gymnasts hit to maintain their lead. Luckily for them their closers are MaKenna Merrell-Giles and MyKayla Skinner, two of the best floor workers in the nation not only in scoring range but also consistency.

The duo delivered in a big way, with Merrell-Giles scoring a 9.9 and Skinner earning 9.95. The Cougars closed out their beam rotation with a 9.875 from Abby Boden and a 9.8 from Shannon Evans, leaving the Cougars with a 148.05-147.45 deficit going into the last rotation.

Making up that kind of gap with the home team finishing on the floor often is possible, but not against the Utes who are accustomed to being under pressure and believe their balance beam lineup is one of their strongest spots this year.

Sophomore Alexia Burch led off for the Utes and earned a 9.775 in her first competitive beam routine this year. Missy Reinstadtler, who fell in Utah’s season opener, redeemed herself with a 9.825.

BYU wasn’t having as solid an effort, with Boden scoring 9.725 to open on floor, but then Natasha Marsh fell scoring just 9.075. Kari Lee and Merrell-Giles extended Utah’s edge with 9.85s and freshman Adrienne Randall added a 9.875 to lock up the win, even with Skinner remaining. Skinner scored a 9.8 to close out the night for the Utes who finished with a 49.2 on the event.

BYU finished with a 49.025 on floor, led by a 9.9 from Evans and a 9.825 from Abbey Miner. Skinner won the all-around with a 39.6 in addition to the vault and floor. She knew the meet was close but said the team never really felt they were going to lose it.

“Especially after vault I thought we had it,” she said. “Our 40th win in a row, it felt pretty good. I knew we would pull it together in the end and fight for it.”

The Utes found themselves in the close meet after scoring a 49.15 on the bars to the Cougars’ 49.05 on vault.

Skinner led the Utes with a 9.875 while the Cougars had three 9.825s from Evans, Avery Bennett and Rebekah Bean.

BYU added a 49.075 on the bars to their total, led by a 9.875 from Evans, while the Utes scored a 49.5 on vault paced by a 9.975 from Skinner.

Utah was happy with the vault effort that gave them the 98.65-98.125 lead, but they wouldn’t know how important it was going to be until the Cougars made it so close with their beam effort. The Cougars’ score was their highest in a season opener.

"I challenged them to show they belonged out there and I think they did,” BYU coach Guard Young said.

Utah coach Tom Farden was overall pleased with the way the Utes handled the pressure, especially since the coaches continue to experiment with different lineups.

"It’s fun to be able to find combinations with this team to get them in the right rhythm for scoring building opportunities and put the athletes in the right spot for them,” he said.