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Utah gymnastics notes: Utes will start on floor for Super Six

Published April 14, 2017 4:51 pm

Utah gymnastics notes • It's normally not the place they like to start, but Utes hope it will provide early momentum.
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St. Louis • The floor event provided the exclamation mark for Utah's performance in the NCAA Gymnastics Championships on Friday.

On Saturday, the Utes will see if it can provide the liftoff they need in the Super Six.

The Utes will start on the floor event, a rotation order that is determined by random draw.

Opening on floor normally is seen as a disadvantage, but the Utes hope they can set the standard for the night, given the reputation their floor effort has. Certainly Friday's showing, in which they scored 49.4875, won't hurt their reputation.

There is also the idea that opening on floor could help nerves since the Utes seemed tight in their first two events on Friday.

But rather than focus on the rotation, junior Tiffani Lewis said it was important to focus on the things the Utes could control, like hitting 24-for-24 routines. Friday's effort was the fifth time the Utes have done that this season.

"We have to hit 24-for-24, then see whatever it brings," she said. "We want to win, but just being back in the Super Six is big. We have trained with a chip on our shoulder all year."

Decisions, decisions

The Utes used Kari Lee only on the uneven bars on Friday due to her ankle sprain. However, she clearly wasn't at her best and scored just 9.6625.

Utah coach Tom Farden didn't rule out the possibility of replacing Lee with Shannon McNatt, who is the No. 1 backup on bars.

McNatt has yet to compete on bars this season, but has been impressive in filling in for Lee on beam, scoring 9.9 at regionals and 9.85 on Friday.

"We'll have to make that decision tonight," he said.

Feeling pressure

Thanks to the growing parity in college gymnastics, the pressure and difficulty to reach the Super Six is stronger than ever. One coach who acknowledged feeling it was UCLA's Valorie Kondos Field.

The Bruins finished fifth last year, but missed the cut for the Super Six in the previous two years.

"There is so much more stress through regionals and this meet," she said. "I did feel it. I wanted to vomit."

Even defending champion Oklahoma was feeling a bit on the spot, said coach K.J. Kindler. Her team won the afternoon rotation but had a few minor breaks.

"We had some uncharacteristic mistakes and we were working out the jitters," she said. "It was tough out there today."

A routine to note

The 9.9 earned on the floor by Utah's MaKenna Merrell matched her effort at regionals. Merrell credited teammate Maddy Stover for a little helpful advice.

"She told me to start doing exactly what we do in practice and just have fun, to not get too picky," she said. "It has worked. I'm just having fun out there."






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