No. 5 Utah gymnastics team debuts at Red Rocks Preview at Huntsman Center

Utah’s gymnastics team is flipping not only in the routines but in the strengths, too, as the Utes prepare for the 2020 season.

The fifth-ranked Utes are expected to be strong on the balance beam this year, an event that has been very inconsistent for them during the post-season recently.

Friday during the team’s Red Rocks Preview at the Huntsman Center, the Utes unveiled some new creative mounts, good difficulty and a lot of confidence.

Returners including Cristal Isa, Sydney Soloski and Kim Tessen all looked strong as did newcomers such as Emilie LeBlanc, a junior transfer from Maryland, and freshmen Abby Paulson and Maile O’Keefe.

In the recent past, vault and floor were Utah’s strengths, but the graduation of gymnasts such as MaKenna Merrell-Giles, Kari Lee and the departure of MyKayla Skinner have left that event depleted of much experience.

Beam, on the other hand, already seems ahead of where it has been at this point in time in past seasons.

“It really helped that LeBlanc, Paulson and O’Keefe are natural beamers,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “So is Cristal, so it is natural that you are going to have a different look right away.”

The Utes return just 10 of 24 routines from their lineup at the NCAA Championships last year so some nerves could be expected given Friday was the first time many of the gymnasts had been in front of a large Huntsman Center crowd.

There were some tight moments and Farden said the team wasn’t as crisp as it has been in practice, but he still liked what he saw.

“I always say nothing says hello like the gym floor,” he said. “All of a sudden you have a big audience, three judges and the TV on you and it changes things. You have to learn from that but this team is hungry to learn. I’m optimistic for this team.”

For the Utes, getting on the Huntsman floor in a live situation gave them a chance to judge for themselves how far they’ve come in practice and what work is left to be done before the season opener on Jan. 3 against Kentucky.

“Everyone had good composure,” Soloski said. “We had a lot of energy and we will be ready for the season.”

Senior Missy Reinstadtler acknowledged the Utes are a young team, but looked at that as more of a fact than a challenge.

“Instead of trying to replace the team we had last year or in past years, we are going to be our own team and create our own energy,” she said. “We are going to go our own way instead of replicating the past.”

Apparently that new identity starts on the balance beam.