Fort Worth, Texas • Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden stood near the balance beam following his team’s competition Friday and shook his head in disappointment at Utah’s fourth-place finish in Session 1 of the NCAA Gymnastics Championships.
“We have to figure out how to be in the most pressure moments and compete well,” he said. “The other teams do it.”
That thought sums up Utah’s recent frustrations in the NCAA Championships as once again on Friday, the Utes capped off a good season with a disappointing finish.
UCLA won the afternoon session with a 197.675 while LSU scored a 197.5125 to advance to Saturday’s finals along with the Bruins.
Michigan placed third with a 197.2 while the Utes were fourth with a 196.725.
Oklahoma won the evening session with a 197.85 and Denver had a 197.0375 to advance. Oregon State (196.9) and Georgia (196.4625) failed to advance.
Utah’s score was its lowest this season, and put the Utes in seventh place overall.
“We always fight to the end and the end goal was to finish in the top four,” Utah senior Kari Lee said. “We wanted to bring it tonight and it’s sad.”
Since finishing second in 2015, the Utes have failed to place higher than fourth, finishing ninth in 2016 and fifth the last two seasons.
The Utes acknowledged that defending champion UCLA and Oklahoma were the heavily favored teams this year, but had hoped to at least be on the floor when the champion was crowned Saturday.
They failed to reach that goal as a combination of a less than perfect meet from the Utes and opponents’ strong performances eliminated the Red Rocks.
Utah had a decent enough start, scoring 49.3125 on the floor to lead after the first rotation. However, the Utes lost their advantage on the next event, the vault, where they scored just 49.225. That was a surprising result since the Utes rank second on the event and have been extremely consistent.
The Utes had a 9.925 from MyKayla Skinner and a 9.9 from MaKenna Merrell-Giles, but Macey Roberts scored only 9.75, a score the Utes had to keep when Kim Tessen managed just 9.225.
That subpar effort was enough to drop the Utes to fourth.
“We left a little bit on the leg events,” Farden said. “They were fractions, but when you get to this level of a meet and you are down to top eight, it is fractions.”
Skinner knew the Utes would have a tough time advancing and expressed frustration at the judging, pointing out scores often rise throughout the meet and that the Utes might have been harmed by starting on their two power events.
“I shouldn’t say much, but it gets to a point that when you are scored based on your start, it’s the dumbest thing,” she said. “It shouldn’t matter. Every athlete should get scores that are deserved. The sucky part is we nailed it on floor and vault and some of the vault scores were ridiculous. But it is what it is. I am proud of the fight of the team.”
The Utes had a decent showing on the bars with a 49.325, but by then the rest of the teams seemed to have a lot more momentum as their scores continued to rise, making it impossible for the Utes to create any kind of comeback.
The meet ended with the Utes scoring just 48.8625 on the balance beam. The big shocker was a fall from Merrell-Giles for just the second time this year on the event, but by then Utah’s fate already had been decided as it was clear Utah wouldn’t advance unless the other teams had major mistakes.
Skinner said she was watching the scores and knew the bind the Utes were in as they went to beam.
“We wouldn’t have made it but we wanted to finish strong,” Skinner said. “Finishing on beam is so hard because you want to go out and build toward the end and it is hard to do that on beam because it is a nerve-wracking, intense event.”
How to do that, get the fire they need but maintain a steady level of competition, is the challenge going forward for the Utes.
“We are still trying to figure out that formula,” Farden said.
In short • Utah didn’t have the perfect meet it needed and failed to advance to the finals.
Key moment • The Utes are ranked second on the vault, but scored only 49.225 to allow the other teams to pass them.
Key stat • Utah’s score was its lowest of the season. The previous low was 196.8 from the first day of the NCAA regionals.