Red Rocks advance to Super Six

Utes finish third in early session of NCAA Nationals

ST. LOUIS (ABC4 Sports) - Lagging in fifth place after two events in NCAA Championship semifinal action, the Utah gymnasts catapulted into the Super Six with a stunning finish on beam and floor. Utah, which trailed every team but one at the midway point, charged into third on the balance beam and then coasted into the Super Six on the wings of a giant floor set.

Oklahoma (197.725) and UCLA (197.500) emerged from the first semifinal with Utah (197.050). They and the three top finishers from tonight’s semifinal will compete for the team championship tomorrow at 7 p.m. MT on ESPNU. Rounding out the hotly contested first semifinal were Washington (196.5625), Denver (196.475) and Oregon State (196.3625).

Freshman phenom MyKayla Skinner, facing perhaps the most star-studded field in NCAA semifinal history, won the all-around (39.6125), vault (9.90) and floor (9.9625). She is now eligible to win NCAA titles in all three disciplines, depending on the results from tonight’s semifinal. Regardless of how tonight plays out, Skinner was the best of an Olympian-packed afternoon session. Two judges awarded Skinner a 10.0 on her floor routine—an event where she entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Baely Rowe, Utah’s lone senior, joins Skinner as a first-team All-American by tying for third on floor with a 9.925. Rowe also earned second-team All-America honors with a fifth-place semifinal finish in the all-around (39.400), while Skinner earned second-team honors on beam, tying for fourth with a 9.9125. Two other Utes earned second-team All-America honors: sophomore MaKenna Merrell on beam (seventh with a 9.90) and floor (eighth with a 9.90), and junior Tiffani Lewis (eighth on vault with a 9.85).

Advancing to the 20th Super Six in school history was looking like a bit of a long shot after two rotations, when Utah was lodged in fifth place with a 98.175. But the Utes put the pedal to the floor—and the beam—in the second half, improving their first half score by a whopping seven tenths of a point (98.875) to charge into team finals.

“We were a little tight on vault and bars,” acknowledged Ute co-head coach Tom Farden. “I told the team after bars that we had 12 routines down and 12 still to go and to just relax and trust themselves.”

Maddy Stover “set the tone,” said Farden as Utah’s leadoff on beam—tying her season high with a 9.85. Merrell took Stover’s lead, popping for a career-best 9.90 and the Utes were off and running. Skinner’s 9.9125 was the best of a rock-solid 49.3875 beam set that allowed Utah (147.5625) to edge past Washington (147.5375) and Denver (147.175) entering the final rotation.

“MyKayla Skinner competes with such confidence that it carries over to the rest of the team,” praised Farden. “Credit needs to go as well to our co-captains Maddy Stover and Baely Rowe, who talked like leaders coming into the meet and then showed it tonight on the floor.”

The Utes opened the meet on the vault, with Skinner’s 9.90 from the anchor position highlighting a 49.0875 set. Just prior, Lewis chipped in a nicely executed 9.85 routine. After Skinner landed her high-flying vault, the Utes left the floor for their first bye of the day. When they returned, all six teams had at completed at least one rotation with these results: UCLA 49.3625, Oklahoma 49.0375, Utah and Oregon State tied (49.0875), Washington (49.0375), Denver (48.9875).

Back in action, Skinner from the leadoff position and Rowe at No. 5 both scored 9.8375’s to lead Utah’s 49.0875 bar set. Although the Utes slipped to fifth after the second rotation, they were still in the chase, trailing third-place Denver and Washington by just half a tenth. The scores at the midway point were UCLA 98.725, Oklahoma 98.700, Denver and Washington 98.225, Utah 98.175, Oregon State 98.0875.

Then the Utes came to life on the beam. Along with Stover (9.85), Merrell (9.90) and Skinner (9.9125), the Utes got walk-through routines from Missy Reinstadtler (9.7875, Rowe (9.875) and Shannon McNatt (9.850).

Not to be outdone, Utah’s floor team upped the ante by scoring a 49.4875, including Skinner’s 9.9625, which tied for the best score on any event in the afternoon. Rowe (9.925) and Merrell (9.90) gave Utah three gymnasts in the top eight.

Utah drew floor as its first event in the Super Six and will rotate from there to vault, bye, bars, beam and a bye to finish the meet.

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