Bleeding Red: Red Rocks gymnastics gives Utes fans reason for excitement

While the Runnin’ Utes continue to dream
The Red Rocks are improving on the beam
While only number 2 to LSU
Red Rocks are poised to prove what they can do

COMMENTARY – This past weekend, the No. 2-ranked Red Rocks squared off with the No. 25-ranked Oregon State Beavers for a meet in the Huntsman Center. In their first Ute Pride Gymnastics Meet, Utah soared high over Oregon State, posting a season-high 197.450 to the Beavers 196.300. It was a great bounce-back meet after falling to UCLA the week before.

utesSo far, this season has been a great one for the Red Rocks, who are now ranked No. 3 in the nation while being first in floor, second in vault, and fourth on bars. This team is looking like a dangerous one and it will be great to see as the season progresses if it can keep up the dominance. The biggest weakness for this squad is the beam. Utah currently ranks 14th in the beam, which is certainly their Achilles heel. However, this past weekend the Red Rocks improved on beam by posting a season-best 49.200 (which boosted their national ranking from No. 18 to No. 14 in the event). That’s a good sign for the Red Rocks as they hopefully can improve on their beam scores so they better matchup with the other events. If Utah can do this, they may be unstoppable by the time the postseason rolls around. 

Perhaps one reason why the Red Rocks showed an improvement on the beam was the change in the lineup order that was made this week.

“(The coaches) switched beam lineup, so it was kind of nerve-wracking,” said Utah star MyKayla Skinner. “I have never been last on beam before and I just wanted to go out there and do the best I could for the team.”

MyKayla Skinner

Skinner did just that by posting a 9.925. She also took home the all-around (surprise, surprise) with a score of 39.725 and MaKenna Merrell-Giles was right behind her with a 39.600. Even the seeing eye dog of one of the judges being distracted by Swoop (thinking he was a really big squirrel) during Skinner’s floor routine, which resulted in a deduction everyone in the arena disagreed with (even the other judge), could not keep Skinner off of the podium. Another notable performance was Kim Tessen, who face-planted during warmups for the bars, but was able to shake it off and post a 9.850, which tied Tiffany Lewis for the second-best score for Utah.

The season is still young, but currently the Red Rocks are hot on the heels of LSU and not far behind Oklahoma for the top spot in the rankings. This past weekend, the Tigers had a home meet against No. 7-ranked Alabama. LSU won by scoring a 197.450, which is the same score that Utah posted, and it is the highest score of the season by both squads. The biggest edge that the Tigers have over the Red Rocks is that they currently rank in the top three in all four events whereas Utah ranks in the top 3 in only two events.

However, this past week LSU had a school record in attendance with 13,729 fans present. Meanwhile the Red Rocks had an attendance of 14,915 and Utah’s school record for attendance is 16,019 for a meet against Michigan back in 2015. Top-ranked Oklahoma gets less than 5,000 fans out for meets. So, even though LSU and Oklahoma may currently have the edge over Utah for now in national rankings, the Red Rocks will always dominate the nation in meet attendance.

Another arrow in Utah’s quiver is the strength of its all-around gymnasts. This past weekend, both Mykayla Skinner and MaKenna Merrell-Giles had better overall scores than LSU’s best two performers, who both posted an overall 39.550. Keeping track of these squads will be interesting as we get farther into the season.

Utah forward Jayce Johnson (34) dunks as Washington State guard Viont’e Daniels (4) looks on in the first half during an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Meanwhile, the Runnin’ Utes had a two-game home stand against Washington and Washington State. 

So far during conference play this year, Utah has struggled in rebounding and interior scoring. Against the Huskies, the interior scoring continued to struggle as the Runnin’ Utes shot 38 percent overall and 26 percent from behind the arc. However, the rebounding was much better as Utah beat Washington with 44 rebounds to the Huskies 38 and 18 offensive rebounds to Washington’s 17. That’s a good improvement that will hopefully continue into future games. 

Against Washington State, the Runnin’ Utes tied the Cougars with 35 rebounds apiece. However, Utah’s shooting improved greatly with 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3. In the end, Utah managed to win both games and hopefully can take this momentum into next week.

Currently, the Runnin’ Utes are in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Pac-12 with a 4-4 conference record and are only a few games behind leaders Arizona (6-1) and USC (6-2). The Pac-12 is still wide open and Utah still has a chance to turn this season around after a difficult start to conference play.

Looking ahead to this week, the Red Rocks travel to Tucson to take on Arizona on Friday (Jan. 26) while the Runnin’ Utes also travel down south to face off with Arizona State on Thursday (Jan. 25) and Arizona on Saturday (Jan. 27).

Here’s hoping the Red Rocks can continue to dominate and inspire the Runnin’ Utes to do the same.

Bleeding Red is a sports column written by Josh Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.

Email: sports@stgnews.com

Twitter: @oldschoolag

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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