With all the newness surrounding the 2020 Utah gymnastics team, it was a familiar face who led the fifth-ranked Utes past No. 12 Kentucky on Friday at the Huntsman Center.
Senior Kim Tessen won both the vault (9.9) and the uneven bars (9.925) and tied teammate Sydney Soloski for the floor honors (9.9) as the Utes defeated the Wildcats 196.425-195.35 in front of 14,417 fans.
The Utes return just 10 of the routines from their 2019 NCAA Championships lineup and have begun the post-Marsden era of coaching, so it was hard to predict what kind of performance the Utes would have.
While they have plenty of room to improve, it was still a solid opener for the Utes. The gymnasts were more critical of themselves than anyone else was, mindful that the expectations aren’t what they usually are for a Utah team.
“We practiced a lot better than what you guys saw tonight and I thought the Red Rocks preview was better than our performance tonight,” Tessen said. “The only thing we can do is learn from it and not lower standards and keep them high and work toward that every day.”
Utah coach Tom Farden was a little easier on his team, acknowledging the Utes seemed tight but overall liking what he saw.
“It was a nice opening score and we hit all our routines without major errors,” he said. “I do think this team is hungry for more and they can do more than what they showed tonight.”
Tessen said she kept the thought of ‘confidence,’ in her mind for her efforts, cognizant that as one of the few upperclassmen she had to set a good example.
“That is something I have to work on as an individual every single day,” she said. “I told myself to be confident for myself and my team. I was hoping that would carry over to the rest of the team members.”
Vault isn’t supposed to be a strength this year, but the Utes put together a 49.125 effort led by Tessen’s 9.9 and 9.825s from Cammy Hall and Alexia Burch.
It was a solid score for any circumstance, but particularly since three gymnasts, Soloski (9.8), Hall and Maile O’Keefe (9.775) were competing in the event for the first time.
Surprisingly bars, which is supposed to be a solid event this year, had some issues with Cristal Isa (9.375) having a big break and O’Keefe (9.6) stumbling on her dismount. But Hunter Dula (9.875) and Missy Reinstadtler (9.825) helped negate the lower scores with solid routines along with Tessen.
The highlight for the Utes on balance beam was Isa’s 9.925. She was effortless on the beam with her crisp tumbling and dancing. Freshman Abby Paulson made her debut with a 9.9 and O’Keefe added 9.8.
“It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I thought it was going to be,” she said of her first meet. “I personally love beam so it’s easy to stay confident up there.”
Tessen and Soloski led the Utes on the floor with 9.9s.
The finishing score might not be as high as many fans are accustomed to from the Utes, but it was still solid.
“I’m not going to let them get off the hook completely, but we are relying on athletes who haven’t competed much in the past and freshmen so there is going to be some growing pains this year with the youth of our team and the new staff,” Farden said. “We are still trying to figure out which combinations we want to work with to build momentum.”
Nevertheless, Soloski said the Utes want to get back in the gym and keep pushing for improvements.
“No one expects us to be national champions but that is something we expect of ourselves,” Soloski said. “That is all that matters. Our goals and dreams stay within the team but we will take tonight and not settle for what we did and get in the gym and work harder. We want to prove a lot of people wrong this year.”
The Utes stay in state for their next meet, competing in the Best of Utah meet at the Maverik Center along with Brigham Young, Southern Utah and Utah State on Jan. 11.
Vault: Kim Tessen (Utah) 9.9
Uneven bars: Kim Tessen (Utah) 9.925
Balance beam: Cristal Isa (Utah) 9.925
Floor: Sydney Soloski (Utah) and Tessen 9.9
All-around: Mollie Korth (Kentucky) 39.375