Gymnastics: Red Rocks top Oregon State in Pac-12 opener

vsBYU020 Emily Juchau

With an early start time and a packed house at the Huntsman Center, the No. 4 Utah gymnastics team continued its undefeated streak by toppling fellow conference member No. 11 Oregon State to begin competition in the Pac-12. Utah’s all-around score of 196.125 was just enough to get by a tough Beavers group, who finished the meet one point behind the Red Rocks at 195.125.

Utah junior Baely Rowe took the all-around MVP following a stellar routine on the bars, while senior Brenna Hughes continued to have a tremendous campaign, taking first in the vault while also having a significant impact on the floor.

Saturday’s matinee meet got off to a flying start for the Red Rocks on the vault, where Hughes took control of the event with a 9.90 score. Samantha Partyka followed up Hughes’ high-flying performance with a 9.85 finish to help give the Red Rocks a marginal lead at the end of the first rotation.

On the bars, sophomore Kari Lee helped the Red Rocks start off well by grabbing a 9.85, but it was Rowe who stole the show with her near-perfect routine, adding 9.95 more points to Utah’s overall score. Things didn’t go according to plan with Tiffani Lewis, however, as she scraped the bar with her foot and dropped critical points.

As proceedings continued with the third rotation at the sold-out Huntsman Center, Maddy Stover brought the crowd to its feet with her incredible display on the balance beam – earning a team-high 9.925 score with her routine. Stover, who has had a 9.8 average score in Utah’s past meets, finally got over the hump and helped the Red Rocks overcome an event where they still have issues — including freshman McKenna Merrell, who had a few hiccups in her 9.575 routine.

Even though all routines in the first three events were good enough to keep Oregon State at bay, Utah ended the day in a more worrying position on the floor. Hughes kicked things off by earning a career-high 9.90 score to get the home crowd in a ruckus. Freshman Sabrina Schwab then took the spotlight, scoring a career-high 9.925 to the delight of the fans.

Things started to go south after that, however, as both Stover and Lewis made errors that brought Utah’s score to the brink of a loss.

Although the Beavers were in a position to take the lead, mistakes on their final rotation at the beam cost them the opportunity to walk out of the Huntsman Center with their first regular season win against the Red Rocks in four years.

Co-head coach Tom Farden mentioned the mistakes made on the floor and blamed it on his gymnast’s pursuit for perfection in their routines – something that’s very difficult to do when there are new faces in the rotation lineup.

“They were just trying a little too hard [on the floor],” Farden said. “I know their rhythm with their speed. They were just a little amped up and over-trying to be perfect. They just need to relax and trust in their training.”

With Utah grabbing their third win of the season, Farden was impressed with the all-around team effort he saw during the meet, but he is also hoping to have a stand-alone leader on the team who can be great in all events.

“It’s a going to be a balance of tactics,” Farden said. “It appears that we don’t have a stand-alone leader coming out of the gates to take the reins of the team right now. We are pretty evenly-scored in all of our events today, something that the team needs to work on.”

Rowe also had a few words on what her teammates can work on in the coming days, especially finishing meets strong and closing them with a bigger lead.

“We definitely have things that we need to work on, especially closing a meet,” Rowe said. “Other than that, I thought we built off of each other in the first three events and did very well. We have some things that we need to clean up and will be working that the rest of the season.”

The Red Rocks now look forward to a long break next week, as their next meet will come on Feb. 1 at home against Arizona.

c.marquez@dailyutahchronicle.com

@chad_marquez