One characteristic of MaKenna Merrell-Giles’ gymnastics career at Utah is she has improved every year. It seems her senior year is becoming a microcosm of her time at Utah, as the Pleasant Grove native has been on an upward trajectory since the season opener.
She had one of her best performances to date on Saturday, leading the No. 4 Utes past No. 14 Cal 197.15-196.175 in front of a sellout crowd of 15,558 at the Huntsman Center.
Merrell-Giles won the all-around with a 39.575 and had season highs of 9.925 on the vault and balance beam. She also had a 9.85 on the uneven bars and 9.875 on the floor.
Utah’s MyKayla Skinner didn’t compete on the floor for the second week in a row as she continues to be hampered by a sore ankle. However, she still had a strong meet, scoring 9.95 on the vault to win the event and 9.85 on the uneven bars and 9.9 on the balance beam.
Cal’s Milan Clausi, the daughter of Utah great Missy Marlowe, had a solid showing in her mom’s old stomping grounds, winning the floor exercise with a 9.9 and scoring 9.85 on the vault and balance beam.
The Utes have yet to fall below the 197 mark, an achievement that hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“It’s pretty cool,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “This little team is making history in the most historical gymnastics program.”
UTAH 197.15, CAL196.175
• In short: The Utes used their second-highest balance beam score of 49.225 to defeat the Cal Bears and continue their streak of scoring 197 or higher.
• Key moment: Shannon McNatt had a shaky balance beam routine to start the rotation with a 9.65, but Sydney Soloski got the team going in the right direction when she followed with a 9.8.
• Key stat: MaKenna Merrell-Giles had season highs on the vault and balance beam of 9.925.
Merrell-Giles led the way in that charge, hitting her vault just like she hit in practice this week, Farden said.
“She ripped five vaults off this week and landed like a lawn dart,” he said. “It’s like she has glue on her feet and her demeanor is great. She has embraced leading the charge in the all-around and has done a heck of a job not only leading by example but as one of the captains.”
Merrell-Giles said the secret to her rise has a lot to do with experience.
“I feel like every preseason has gone better and better and experience helps,” she said. “When you are a freshman it can be intimidating. Now that I have a few meets under my belt, I know what is coming and how to handle my nerves better.”
Merrell-Giles wasn’t the only one who shined as the Utes had a strong meet overall. Standing out in particular was the effort on balance beam where the Utes had their second-best performance of the year, 49.225.
Senior Kari Lee had her second 9.925 in a row on the beam and Sydney Soloski had 9.8.
The Utes still had two low scores, a 9.65 from Shannon McNatt and 9.675 from Adrienne Randall, but they at least avoided any falls, the first time in three meets they’ve done so.
“The little things we have been working on this week from last weekend showed,” Lee said. “We had some mistakes but didn’t cave.” Farden said a few of the mistakes were uncharacteristic, but he was happy overall with the beam.
“Three of those beam routines were as good as they are in practice and as a coach, you can’t be more pleased than that,” Farden said.
The Utes may have known they were in for a good meet when they opened on vault with a 49.475, the second-highest score of the season on the event.
In addition to Skinner’s 9.95 and Merrell-Giles’ 9.925, the Utes counted 9.875s from Macey Roberts and Kim Tessen. “
Vault was huge for us,” Farden said. “It was a great start.”
The uneven bars were the Utes’ low point with a 49.175, but it was a solid showing as Utah didn’t count anything less than a 9.8.
Kim Tessen, Skinner and Merrell-Giles all earned 9.85s.
The only mistake on floor came when Soloski landed her last pass short and fell. It was her first fall of the year.
Utah had highs of 9.875 from Macey Roberts, Adrienne Randall and Merrell-Giles.
Vault • MyKayla Skinner (Utah) 9.95
Uneven bars • Maya Bordas (Cal) 9.875
Balance beam • MaKenna Merrell-Giles (Utah) and Kari Lee (Utah) 9.925
Floor • Milan Clausi (Cal) 9.9
All-around • MaKenna Merrell-Giles (Utah) 39.575