Utah’s senior gymnasts put on a near-perfect show Saturday in their last appearance at the Huntsman Center.
Little did they know they needed that kind of performance for the fifth-ranked Utes to beat No. 9 Michigan 197.975-197.35. Led by their senior class, the Utes (10-2) posted a season-high 49.675 on the floor to hold off the Wolverines (13-3), who stuck close to them all meet.
Senior Macey Roberts earned a career high on the floor of 9.925, while fellow senior Kari Lee earned the same score to tie her career high and MaKenna Merrell-Giles tied her season high with the same mark.
Junior MyKayla Skinner won floor with a 9.975 and sophomore Sydney Soloski also had a 9.925.
Merrell-Giles’ score was enough to clinch the meet, although the Wolverines kept things tight with a 49.35 on the balance beam.
Skinner won the all-around with a 39.7, while Merrell-Giles and Michigan’s Olivia Karas tied for second with 39.65.
“Hats off to Michigan,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “They are a well-coached team with lots of talent. … They didn’t back down and came in here and did a nice job.”
Utah led Michigan just 148.3-148.0 going into the final rotation as both teams were solid on their previous events. Knowing how close it was helped the seniors focus, Merrell-Giles said.
“It was fun to have such a good team on Senior Night,” she said. “It helped me focus more and be on our game; even though the emotions were high, it helped me stay in the moment.”
In addition to her floor score, Merrell-Giles earned 9.95 on vault, 9.925 on the bars and 9.85 on the balance beam.
Lee, who had a 39.55 in the all-around, set the tone for the night when she opened with a 9.925 on the vault.
“As soon as she came out of the gates and dropped that vault, I knew we were in for a good night,” Farden said. “They were in their element and stayed focused. We had a brilliant week of practice so it was the perfect chemistry to earn one of the highest scores in the country."
The Utes posted a season-high 49.5 on the vault. Merrell-Giles tied her season high of 9.95 and Skinner added another 9.95 to lead Utah.
Utah’s momentum on the vault carried over to the uneven bars where they scored a 49.45 with Missy Reinstadtler and Skinner scoring 9.925s. The Utes went with just five on the event because freshman Hunter Dula, who normally competes second, was sidelined with an illness.
The Utes had a solid effort on the balance beam with a 49.35. The score was the second-highest of the season, with Lee and Alexia Burch starting the rotation with 9.9s.
Like the Utes, Michigan was steady, scoring 49.325 on the vault, 49.2 on the bars and 49.475 on the floor to set up the showdown in the final rotation.
“We knew Michigan is a team on the uphill,” Lee said. “Rankings don’t matter, it’s what you bring that night, and they brought it.”
That the Utes responded with such a solid effort gave them a mental boost as well after last week’s close loss to then-ranked No. 2 UCLA. Now the Utes have a week off before traveling to Georgia for the season finale. The postseason run begins with the Pac-12 Championships in the Maverik Center on March 23.
“We’re excited for the postseason,” Merrell-Giles said. “We want to keep that momentum going with our training in practice and do what we need to do to hit in meets. Hard work pays off, so we are working hard in the gym to get ready.”
UTAH 197.975, MICHIGAN 197.35
In short: Utah rebounded from its loss to UCLA last week by beating the Wolverines with a strong showing throughout the meet.
Key moment: Senior MaKenna Merrell-Giles earned a 9.925 on the floor to clinch the meet for the Utes.
Key stat: All of Utah’s counting scores on floor were 9.925 or higher.
Vault: MaKenna Merrell-Giles (Utah) and MyKayla Skinner (Utah) 9.95
Uneven bars: Olivia Karas (Michigan), MaKenna Merrell-Giles (Utah), MyKayla Skinner (Utah) 9.925
Balance beam: Olivia Karas (Michigan), Natalie Wojcik (Michigan) and Lauren Farley (Michigan) 9.925
Floor: MyKayla Skinner (Utah) 9.975
All-around: MyKayla Skinner (Utah) 39.7