After a fifth place finish at the 2018 National Championships, the University of Utah Red Rocks are back and hungry for more. The team, lead by co-head coaches Tom Farden and Megan Marsden took on the Penn State Nittany Lions lead by head coach Sarah Brown on Saturday, January 5 at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, UT.

The Utes started off the competition on vault with senior Kari Lee leading off performing a huge Yurchenko full with a tiny hop back for a 9.875. Following three more Yurchenko fulls from Cristal Isa, Alexia Burch, and Macey Roberts, senior MaKenna Merrell-Giles nailed her Yurchenko 1.5 for a 9.900. Junior MyKayla Skinner closed the vault rotation for the Red Rocks with a stuck Yurchenko double full for a huge 9.950 and helped Utah earn a 49.400 on vault.

MyKayla Skinner following a fantastic vault Photo: Deena Lofgren, University of Utah

On the uneven bars, Penn State hit six routines for a total score of 48.950, dropping a 9.675. Sophomore Ava Verdeflor led off the uneven bars for Penn State with a super solid routine with a small hop on her double back dismount and scored a 9.775. Sabrina Garcia closed bars for Penn State scoring a 9.800.

Leading off for Penn State on vault was sophomore Alissa Bonsall with a Yurchenko Full scoring a 9.700. Lauren Bridgens closed for Penn State on vault with a Yurchenko 1.5, the sole 10.0 start value for Penn State. As a result, with only one 10.0 start value for Penn State, the Lions were only able to put up a 48.625 on vault.

Junior Kim Tessen lead off the Red Rocks on bars and put up a solid routine with a stuck full out dismount for a 9.850. Merrell-Giles followed her fantastic performance on vault with a great performance on bars which included a Deltchev and a new dismount for her, a full out dismount. Merrell-Giles matched Tessen’s score for a 9.850. Prior to MyKayla Skinner’s huge closing bar routine for a 9.950 for Utah, freshman Cristal Isa performed a beautiful routine for a great 9.925. Utah, still on great pace, scored a 49.425 dropping a 9.825.

Halfway through the competition, the Red Rocks lead the Lions 98.825 to 97.575.

With now-graduated Maddy Stover’s absence as the all important lead off position on beam, senior Shannon McNatt lead off the Red Rocks on beam for a 9.700. Fans saw freshman Adrienne Randall begin her collegiate gymnastics career when she followed McNatt on the balance beam. Randall performed a huge full twisting back handspring swing down, causing the crowd to gasp and cheer. Randall scored a 9.850 on beam, a great opener for her freshman year. Following MaKenna Merrell-Giles’ solid 9.900 beam routine, the Red Rocks took an unfortunate fall from the usually solid Missy Reinstadler. While it’s never easy to follow a fall, Kari Lee was able to with a couple minor errors, scoring a 9.675. MyKayla Skinner, last season’s anchor on beam for the Red Rocks closed with a super solid routine and a double back dismount for a 9.850. The Red Rocks finished with a 48.975 on beam, an event score that they will definitely want to improve.

On floor, Tess McCracken lead off for Penn State, but unfortunately went out of bounds on her first pass and sat down her second pass. As a result, McCracken scored an 8.450, a score that Penn State would want to drop. Not able to afford any mistakes, Penn State had to hit four routines. Unfortunately, following McCracken, Alissa Bonsall was short on her final pass, a double pike, and lunged forward, causing her knee to touch the floor and scoring a 9.350. The bad luck on floor continued to stream through for Penn State on floor when Kourtney Chinnery over rotated her double back, falling backwards and out of bounds. Luckily, Chinnery was able to finish strong with a 1.5 twist to front pike. After Chinnery posted a 9.225, Melissa Astarita put up a solid set on floor for a 9.650. Lauren Bridgens brought the energy back to Penn State’s floor routine with a great routine, scoring a 9.825. Sabrina Garcia closed for Penn State on floor with energy and a clean and hit routine for a 9.825. Garcia’s score helped the Lions come back for a floor score of a 47.875.

Lauren Bridgens on floor Photo: Penn State

Going into the final rotation, the Utah Utes led the Penn State Lions 147.800 to 145.450.

Hoping to recover from a rough floor rotation, Penn State had Sabrina Garcia lead off on the balance beam. Garcia unfortunately was off on her side aerial but was able to recover, but then came off on her back handspring, layout step-out. After Garcia’s 9.100, junior Kristen Politz went up with some minor hesitations, but was able to hit a clean routine for a 9.775. Jessie Bastardi followed Politz and put up another hit routine for the Lions scoring a 9.825. With pressure to drop a 9.100, Lauren Bridgens closed for the Lions on beam, hitting her routine for a 9.825, aiding Penn State to come back from a rough floor rotation and score a 49.000 on beam.

The Red Rocks, hoping for a great close to their first competition of the season, had Kari Lee lead off on floor. Lee opened with a 2.5 twist with a large lunge out. Closing with a double twist connected to a layout step-out, Kari hit her routine for a 9.600. Hoping to drop the 9.600, the Utes followed with Macey Roberts scoring a 9.875. Missy Reinstadler was hoping to redeem herself on floor and opened up with a beautiful double back, but was off on her first leap series. Reinstadler remained calm and collected and finished her routine with a beautiful double back for a 9.775. Fans saw Sydney Soloski for the first time of the night on floor where she put up an extremely strong routine for a 9.850. Competing her fourth and final event of the night, MaKenna Merrell-Giles hit her opening pass of a piked full in and continued to impress throughout closing with a front handspring, Rudi, straddle jump and scored a 9.925. MyKayla Skinner closed for the Utes on floor, opening with a huge double double and showing an immense amount of energy along with clean gymnastics throughout. Skinner closed with a nailed full in, a fantastic finish to her opening meet of the season. Skinner finished with a 9.950, helping the Red Rocks earn a 49.375 on floor.

MaKenna Merrell-Giles on floor Photo: Leah Hogsten

Utah finished the competition with a 197.175 and Penn State with a 194.450. In the all around, MyKayla Skinner of Utah came in first with a 39.700, MaKenna Merrell of Utah in second with a 39.575, and Lauren Bridgens of Penn State with a 39.125.

Next weekend, the Utah Utes will be at Brigham Young University and Penn State will be at the Little Boston Invitational where they will compete against Temple, Towson.

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