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Once destined for the University of Arizona, Kari Lee's decision to compete for Utah's gymnastics team was like the Utes' answer to an SOS call.
Utah desperately needed help to make its balance beam lineup stronger. Lee's favorite event? You got it, the balance beam.
To say they welcomed her with open arms would be an understatement.
"We fell in love with her very quickly," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "She seems to own her gymnastics. She loves to compete and be out there in front of a crowd."
Lee's introduction to college gymnastics was last week at BYU when she scored 9.85 on the vault and beam and 9.775 on the floor. She is expected to compete on all the events Friday when the Utes host Boise State, UC Davis and SUU in the home opener.
She is hoping she can introduce herself to Utah fans with another good showing.
"The first meet was awesome," she said. "I didn't know what to expect, but the upperclassmen did a good job of helping us and making sure we were focused."
Out of all the scores against BYU, it had to be the beam performance that impressed fans the most. After all, it's rare for any gymnast to say they love the balance beam, much less a freshman.
Yet there she was, competing one move after another with confidence.
"I love beam," she said. "I know it sounds weird, but it's an event that is calming to me. It just calms my body."
That she would earn a spot in the beam lineup isn't too surprising then, but Lee's presence in the other lineups is impressive, considering how deep the Utes' lineup is this year.
Yet the Peoria, Ariz., freshman has earned roles thanks to her skill level. A 2013 junior Olympic all-around champion, Lee is also threatening to break into the uneven bars rotation.
"She has good execution and, to top it off, a great performance quality," Marsden said. "Some people come in and get nervous and stoic, but she's not like that. She is someone who knows how to have fun and let her personality show. She really has her own style."
The Utes are glad to have Lee, particularly since she wasn't in their original plans. She committed to Arizona as a sophomore in high school but then started having second thoughts. At the same time she started looking around, Taylor Allex, who competed sparingly for Utah in 2013, decided she wanted to transfer.
Allex's decision to leave the Utes for Arizona State gave Utah an extra scholarship. The Utes didn't take long to offer it to Lee, who was following the Utes on social media.
"I'd see their routines and say, 'They are doing that,'" she said. "Now that I am here, it feels like my home here."
She is certainly at home on the balance beam.
About Kari Lee
Height • 5-foot-1
Class • Freshman
Hometown • Peoria, Ariz.
Noteworthy • 2013 junior Olympic all-around champion. … 2014 junior Olympic vault champion. … Scored 9.85s on the balance beam and vault in the season opener at BYU. … Parents own Flames Gymnastics Academy.