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Freshman Smith makes immediate impact for Red Rocks

She kicks off Utah career with impressive showing in season-opening victory over LSU.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Makenna Smith performs her floor routine as the No. 3 University of Utah hosts No. 6 LSU during the Utes season opener at the Huntsman Center, Jan. 6, 2023.

Makenna Smith mulls the question for a few seconds, then giggles as she answers.

“It was the last big snowstorm,” she said. “I have a Hyundai Elantra and I haven’t gotten snow tires yet and I was going to meet some teammates at breakfast. I should have at least scraped off my car but I didn’t. Driving in the snow still makes me nervous.”

So there you have it, the last time Smith felt out of her comfort zone was in her own car, not on the balance beam, or in the Huntsman Center in front of 1000s, or in her first collegiate meet, it was in her first Utah snowstorm. Anything with gymnastics? Well, she has that covered.

Smith, a freshman for the Utes’, kicked off her career with the same kind of performance that drew Utah coach Tom Farden’s attention when he was recruiting her.

Smith scored a 9.9 on the vault, a 9.85 on the bars and a 9.875 on the floor in the Red Rocks’ season-opening win over LSU on Jan. 6.

It was about as a perfect meet as Farden could hope for from a rookie. He expects it is a hint of what is to come for Smith, too, calling her effort “sensational,” while thinking back to some of his first impressions of her.

“I liked her demeanor,” he said. “The way she walked into the gym and moved in the gym, she moved with confidence. She has a laid back level of intensity.”

Smith, from Albuquerque, N.M., came out of the same gym as Utah great Tory Wilson, a seven-time All-American (2012-2015).

That connection made her aware of the Utah program early and gave her something to aspire to as she was developing her gymnastics. Wilson was a confident, quiet leader who rarely looked unsettled no matter how much pressure was on her. Smith apparently is following her lead.

“She was the one people talked about,” Wilson said of her club days. “I started watching her and Utah and everything they were doing. It’s honestly a surreal experience to being on the team with the girls I idolized and to call them my friends.”

Smith is predicted to be a regular contributor in the all-around, no small achievement given the talent on this Utah team.

She boasts a 10.0 value vault, a solid uneven bars routine and strong tumbling on floor. She also savors the challenge of being in the balance beam lineup, given Utah’s talent there.

“That lineup is insane,” she said. “I love training beam and to crack that lineup is hard.”

Farden won’t hesitate to use her on any of the events, including beam. There is no thought of protecting her from the spotlight, given her mix of explosive gymnastics and attitude.

“She has a levelheadedness about her,” he said. “Gymnastics, she is extremely clean and explosive and powerful so it is a good combination.”

A good combination for Smith and for the Utes.