Before her floor routine, Utah senior gymnast MaKenna Merrell-Giles will look for teammate Sydney Soloski. They make eye contact and flex their muscles at each other, a ritual that Merrell-Giles said is the final touch in her preparation.
“She is always talking to me and encouraging me,” Merrell-Giles said. “She is such a positive person, she helps me so much.”
In the last half of the season, Soloski’s support has moved more from the mental kind to the physical one as she has become not just a key participant in the floor lineup but also the balance beam.
The sophomore from Calgary, Alberta, competed in just five meets last year and was far down the beam lineup at the beginning of the 2019 season. But now as the Utes prepare for the NCAA Championships, Soloski is not only in the beam lineup, but excelling.
She is earning consistent 9.825s or higher on the apparatus and is coming off a 9.875 performance on the final night of regionals.
NCAA GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIP
At the Fort Worth Convention Center, Ft. Worth
(National qualifying scores included)
Session 1 (ESPN2), 1 p.m. MT: No. 2 UCLA (396.085), No. 3 LSU (395.31), No. 5 Utah (394.785), No. 6 Michigan (394.595)
Session 2 (ESPNU) 5 p.m. MT: No. 1 Oklahoma (396.59), No. 4 Denver (394.92), No. 7 Georgia (395.365), No. 8 Oregon State (393.525)
Top two teams from each session advance to Saturday’s finals,, April 20, 5 p.m. MT, ESPNU
None could be happier for Soloski than her coach, Megan Marsden, who has noted Soloski’s efforts as well as that of Alexia Burch have improved.
“They’ve figured out their roles are important and necessary on the beam,” she said. “We have always known Sydney was a beamer, she has the pedigree, but for whatever reason she has struggled with consistency at Utah.”
Soloski was given an opportunity to prove herself under pressure when injuries to Cristal Isa and Missy Reinstadtler took them out of the lineup and another beam worker, Shannon McNatt, struggled.
As a member of the Canadian National Team for four years, Soloski has competed in plenty of pressure events on the 4-inch wide apparatus and done well.
In 2016 she took third on the beam at the World Cup Challenge and was first on the apparatus at the 2015 Provincial Championships. She was also the 2013 Canadian Junior National beam champion.
She was finally able to find that kind of success after joining the beam lineup against Cal on Feb. 9 and scored a 9.8. Her scores have steadily improved along with her confidence.
“I’ve tried to be consistent and do my job,” she said. “The last meet [regionals] was definitely a highlight for me on beam.”
Marsden called that routine a ‘breakthrough moment,’ for Soloski.
“She has kept her beam routines smooth enough to earn in the 9.8 range, but that routine, she was so smooth. She has continued to address her weaknesses and has kept getting better.”
On floor Soloski has had three 9.925s and scored a 9.875 at the Pac-12 Championships and a 9.825 on the final night of regionals. Her routine is one of the more upbeat and infectious routines the team has, a vibe that fits Soloski’s personality, Marsden said.
“She is upbeat and fun loving and I don’t see her have any kind of routine other than the one she has now,” Marsden said. “that is always her personality, but it is fun to see how beam is coming around for her now too.”
Soloski said floor remains her favorite event because it is less stressful for her. However, beam is becoming a “close second,” she said.
“We had so many strong beam workers to start, but when other girls went down with injuries I had to step up into that role and embrace it,” she said.
She has done just that, flexing her skills as well as her smile.