Today we move back to the Pac-12 with our analysis of the Utah Utes, who triumphantly returned to the Super Six last season despite a number of injuries to top competitors. Utah will only lose Baely Rowe’s routines, and it’ll gain two strong freshmen plus one veteran returning from injury. Between these three, replacing Rowe’s routines should be no problem, and the Red Rocks should be in great position to make a bid to return to the Super Six once again. Utah will also lose Sabrina Schwab to medical retirement, but since she didn’t compete much of last season, the team is already used to operating without her.
Vault was one of Utah’s stronger events last year, and losing Rowe’s Yurchenko full should do very little to change that. Freshmen Alexia Burch and Sydney Soloski both compete fulls, with Burch’s the cleaner of the two. However, don’t really expect to see either of them in this lineup, especially considering the vaults of those returning from injury.
As with most of Utah’s lineups, we expect Mykayla Skinner to lead the way, with her huge Yurchenko double that regularly scored 9.9+. The only other guaranteed 10.0 start value vault should come from MaKenna Merrell-Giles, who upgraded to a Yurchenko one and a half last year and recorded decent enough numbers for it. Shannon McNatt’s Omelianchik is also a possibility, as she competed it four times toward the end of the 2017 season, but she was taken out of the lineup after she sat it at the conference championship. If she can clean it up and score at least in the middle of the pack, she could easily end up back in the top six.
There’s also the possibility for four more 10.0 vaults, but their readiness is uncertain. Missy Reinstadtler had a minor leg injury last year that kept her from doing her most difficult vault, the one and a half that she competed in J.O. If she can bring that back, she’d be a lock for the top six. Kim Tessen had a season-ending Achilles injury last year, but her one and a half scored well pre-injury. She’s a good bet if healthy but note that we haven’t seen any vault or tumbling from her in preseason training, so it’s hard to judge her readiness for hard landings at this point. Still, if all of those vaults materialize into the lineup, Utes would have five 10.0 starts instead of just two or three, which would be a huge improvement from last season.
However, some of these can be outscored by strong fulls, and there are some Utah vaulters capable of that kind of performance. Tiffani Lewis is the first that comes to mind, having scored a “perfect 9.95” last season for her full at the Pac-12 championship. Her normal scores in the 9.85 range are still higher than some of the potential 10.0 vaults, so we consider her a lock for the top six. Kari Lee and Macey Roberts also have solid fulls that could work their way into the lineup. Lee didn’t compete every week, but her steadiness when she did may win her the lead-off role. Roberts was a bit 9.7-y at times, but her ability to provide a useable score may be worth more than we realize. Without evidence of many of the previously mentioned 10.0s, she may be called upon to step in. Take a look below at who we would select for Utah’s vault lineup.
Lee | Reinstadtler | Roberts | Merrell-Giles | Lewis | Skinner
Alternates: Tessen | McNatt | Burch
Bars is one of Utah’s weaker events, both in scores and in depth, but that’s a bit misleading. Utah was still ranked No. 6, so weaker is a relative term. However, it is one place where the Red Rocks aren’t as deep and may struggle to find six 9.85+ routines every week, especially—if all those who were injured aren’t back to full form yet. Freshmen Burch and Soloski do have passable bar sets, but leg form and handstands would be concerns for both of them. They’re not going to be much help when it comes to replacing the weekly scores of Rowe.
The returning gymnasts make strong cases for their inclusion, particularly Lee and Lewis. Lee has had her inconsistencies, but she scored a huge 9.975 last season—the highest of any Ute on this event. And she’s absolutely in the conversation, maybe even as an anchor. Lewis, too, has excellent scoring potential, scoring at least 9.85 in nine of her 14 performances and never falling once. Skinner is another no-brainer, with 9.9-level potential and a dependable set, hitting every routine for at least a 9.8. Reinstadtler, too, reached the 9.9 mark last year with her clean set. She’ll likely make the top six as well, especially now with a season of experience under her belt.
Things start to get a little less certain when we consider those returning from injury. Tessen, when healthy, would most likely be a lock for this lineup, but her injury status leaves us uncertain. However, given it was an early-season leg injury, we’re optimistic about their chances of returning. Tessen hit a few 9.8+ scores before her injury, and if we take her club scores to help in comparison (she is a J.O. national bars champion after all), her case is pretty strong. Compare that to Merrell-Giles, who’s the only healthy returner not to score a 9.9 last season, has only four scores at 9.85 or higher and career high of “only” 9.875. The team will need both of them, but Tessen is actually a stronger choice, despite her injury. This still leaves the Utes bars squad very low on depth, with only two alternate options. McNatt once had a solid bars set, scoring in the top ten at her final J.O. nationals, so if her team is really struggling for routines, maybe we’ll see her step up to the plate. She’s come out of left field before to save the team in the event of injury before, so maybe she’ll do it again. But for now, we’ll leave her as the last-resort alternate. Check out the rest of our proposed lineup below.
Skinner | Merrell-Giles | Reinstadtler | Tessen | Lewis | Lee
Alternates: Soloski | Burch | McNatt
Beam had its ups and downs for Utah last season, and the loss of Rowe doesn’t help. Freshman Burch may actually be in a position to contribute, with a gorgeous beam set featuring elegant lines in her dance elements and secure, patient landings in her acro skills. She also reached a number of huge scoring milestones in her Level 10 career, including a 9.575 at this year’s J.O. national championships. Soloski has a decent set and might have more success with a less difficult set, but her frequent balance checks belie her confidence.
Despite the fact that her elite set was riddled with built-in deductions, Skinner has come into her own in college. Expect her to lead the team with her assertiveness, adding more 9.9s to her name. Maddy Stover is Utah’s beam specialist du jour, always a solid rock to kick off the lineup while Merrell-Giles and Lee both have 9.9-worthy routines of their own to contribute, so expect all three to make the top six. Finally, Reinstadtler’s long lines and patience on the apparatus really give her an edge that Utah will want to make full use of—she didn’t have a single fall last season.
McNatt was an occasional beam contributor with mixed results in 2017. She did score a 9.9 in her very first collegiate routine, but she dropped to a 9.7625 by Super Six, so it may be best to leave her as an alternate for now. Tessen will also look to contribute on beam if she’s healthy, though she didn’t compete it last season even pre-injury and only showed an exhibition at the Red Rocks Preview. This is where Utah starts running out of options, so it better hope Tessen is ready to jump in if necessary. Below is the breakdown of our proposed Utah beam lineup this year.
Stover | Merrell-Giles | Burch | Reinstadtler | Lee | Skinner
Alternates: Tessen | McNatt | Soloski
Floor was a strength for the Red Rocks last season, finishing the year ranked No. 4 and boasting one of the most difficult skills being done in the NCAA in Skinner’s double double. Freshmen Soloski and Burch both have great presence, but it’s Soloski that really has the whole package between them. She almost seems out of place in a Utah floor scenario, with her absolutely gorgeous Semenova turn and beautiful fluidity in her dance a stark contrast to some of the more pose-y routines from Red Rocks past. But then she starts to tumble and it clicks – her double layout is a very real possibility for the season, and her tumbling in general packs a lot of power. This is definitely the event where she can make the biggest difference to her new team.
When it comes to floor, the Utes are stacked: Every single regular floor competitor last year scored at least one 9.9, with most scoring 9.925 or higher. Skinner obviously leads the way, as she tallied two perfect 10.0s and no score below 9.9. Lewis and Merrell-Giles are also big scorers, both boasting four or more 9.9+ scores. Merrell-Giles is by far the most inconsistent of the bunch, though, with a “hit” routine earning her anywhere between a 9.75 and a 9.95. Reinstadtler managed 9.9s even with her minor leg injury, so at full strength this year, she should be a real powerhouse while Roberts was a solid and consistent lead-off for the Utes.
Tessen is also an option, as she competed floor once for a 9.825 before falling injured. Based on the fact that we haven’t seen her training any hard landings yet, she’ll stay an alternate for now, but keep an eye out for her to sneak in if she’s healthy. Lee also competed floor on a few occasions, though with mixed results, but as strapped as the team is for depth, she may be needed in case of injury. Below is our take on the floor lineup for the Utes this year.
Roberts | Reinstadtler | Soloski | Merrell-Giles | Lewis | Skinner
Alternates: Burch | Tessen | Lee
In the all around, Skinner is an obvious necessity, having been ranked second in the nation in 2017. She’ll be expected to shoulder the responsibility of being the Utes’ primary four-event gymnast once again, which should be no problem for the sophomore. Reinstadtler becomes the secondary choice with the lineup scenarios we’ve laid out, She’s shown capability for 9.875+ scores on three events and should likely add vault in 2018. Merrell-Giles is also a possibility, especially if Tessen isn’t ready yet, but her AA berth isn’t as certain this year as it was last.
Overall, this is a strong picture for the 2018 Red Rocks. Losing few routines and gaining back key players from injury, Utah will add to its depth and play to it strengths on vault and floor.
Article by Caroline Medley, graphics by Emily Howell-Forbes