In speaking about the balance beam after losing to UCLA on Saturday, Utah gymnast MyKayla Skinner said she felt bad that Kari Lee is now the leadoff because she was winning the event so often.

“But she makes the rest of us feel confident,” Skinner said, turning to Lee and adding “Thanks, grandma.”

Lee just gave a satisfied laugh in response. The fifth-year senior was never really sure what her final year might look like, all she knew is she wanted to compete as much as possible, but she has certainly slipped into the motherly role of taking care of the rest of her teammates.

With the move into the balance beam leadoff spot for the last two meets, Lee now starts every rotation for the Utes except for floor, where she goes second behind Macey Roberts.

Lee has won four beam titles this season, so moving into the leadoff spot could be seen as a sort of sacrifice since the first gymnasts up rarely score high enough to win event titles. However, she isn’t seeing her role as any kind of sacrifice, if anything, she is honored the team has faith in her.

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“It is a big deal to have to set the tone for the rest of the team,” she said. “Hopefully I can do it justice and it’s good to know the team has that confidence in me.”

The Utes tried to use Shannon McNatt and Alexia Burch in the role, but coach Megan Marsden said they needed someone with more experience and confidence. Lee has both, plus a little more.

“I feel like Kari has developed a name and reputation over her long career that she is capable of scoring high scores,” Marsden said. “She has the potential to score 9.9 so that is a great place to start and build from there if the rest do their job in following her.”

The Utes have improved their beam the last two outings, scoring 49.375 against Stanford and UCLA. Part of the change is credited to co-coach Tom Farden putting the team through a ‘boot camp,’ on beam last week in practice, but the switch in lineup is a factor too.

“The whole team has a lot of confidence in Kari,” Marsden said. “There is a lot of pressure, but she makes the beam look easy and floats across it.”

Lee, who missed most of the 2016 season after tearing her Achilles tendon, has been working her way back into the all-around lineup the last two years. Floor, due to the nature of its demands on the body was the last to be added. However, Lee said the beam remains her favorite due to its challenges.

“It’s the event that is make it or break it for teams,” she said. “But I don’t want to make it a bigger deal than it needs to be either. All you have to do is a routine, it isn’t the end of the world.”

If anything, Lee’s routine could be the start of something great for the Utes.

THE TOP 25
Ranking Team Average
1. Oklahoma 197.763
2. UCLA 197.688
3. Florida 197.545
4. LSU 197.28
5. Utah 197.22
6. Denver 197.02
7. Georgia 196.89
8. Alabama 196.735
9. Michigan 196.675
10. Kentucky 196.595
11. Minnesota 196.495
12. Auburn 196.425
13. Boise St. 196.4
14. California 196.335
15. Oregon St. 196.3
16. Missouri 196.1
17. Washington 196.065
18. Nebraska 196.015
19. BYU 195.995
20. Arkansas 195.945
21. Arizona St. 195.94
22. Stanford 195.685
23. Ohio St. 195.55
24. West Virginia 195.465
25. N.C. State 195.435