Two teams, two seniors, and two senior nights
The two seniors were as high as a kite
With their stars blazing and burning bright white
And single handedly winning the fight
COMMENTARY – Last weekend, Utah pulled off one of the best one-two punches in the form of Senior Nights you will ever see. The Red Rocks and Runnin’ Utes each had a single senior compete for the last time in front of a home crowd in the Huntsman Center on back-to-back nights with spectacular results. Coincidentally, Utah hosted Stanford for both events.
After an emotional pre-meet ceremony to honor Baely Rowe, she bookended the evening’s performances as the first competitor on vault and the last competitor on the floor. Rowe was magnificent throughout the night, earning career high scores on vault (9.90) and floor (9.975), and winning the beam (9.875). More than one fan in the stands got misty-eyed as Rowe performed her trademark moonwalk on the beam. Even Rowe had a tear in her eye as she concluded her moonwalk and readied for her dismount; upon the conclusion of her routine, her emotions were evident.
MyKayla Skinner scored her first perfect 10.0 of her collegiate career on the floor bringing the capacity crowd to its feet. That set the stage for Rowe’s grand finale. “Once MyKayla hit that 10.0, I had nothing to lose,” Rowe said. “I went out on the floor thinking, ‘I want to be just as good as her and I want to play for the crowd a bit.’” An argument can be made that Skinner’s perfect 10.0 was the only reason Rowe didn’t earn her own perfect 10.0 because the judges just could not bring themselves to award back-to-back 10.0s (or at least one of the judges couldn’t, as the other one did give Rowe a 10.0).
Rowe accomplished something in her final home meet that no other gymnast has been able to do all year long— be the equal of Skinner in the all-around, as the senior and freshman tied for the honor (39.650). “Baely’s last night here made me so sad,” sobbed Skinner after the meet. “Bae definitely deserved it (tying Skinner for all-around honors) and I am so proud of her.”
Once again, Skinner made world class look almost easy as she powered through her routines. Even when she wobbled on the beam, she immediately improvised some dance moves as if the wobble was merely part of her choreography, much to the delight of the fans.
The gymnasts were not the only winners in the arena on Friday night. The sell-out crowd of 15,558 helped Utah capture the 2017 all-sport women’s attendance title for the seventh time in the last eight years. The Red Rocks also broke their own NCAA season gymnastics attendance record by averaging an astonishing 15,224 fans for home meets.
Utah easily bested Stanford 197.500 to 196.275 with a full display of the present (and soon-to-be past) in senior Baely Rowe and the future in freshman MyKayla Skinner. With a wink and a nod to Timbuk 3, the Red Rocks’ future is so bright I gotta wear shades.
Speaking of the past, present, and future, Runnin’ Utes fans enjoyed their own spectacle Saturday night on The Hill. Utah’s Final Four team from 1966 was honored at halftime (the past), Lorenzo Bonam was honored as the sole senior (the present), and the Runnin’ Utes survived Stanford to secure fourth place in the Pac-12 with contributions from a lot of young players and with several recruits on hand (the future).
Reminiscent of Rowe’s bookend performances the night before, Bonam got Utah started, and then sealed the deal down the stretch. The first bucket of the game was a 3-pointer by Bonam. He also scored the Runnin’ Utes’ last 11 points all by himself to push a two-point lead to an eight-point win. Most impressive were back-to-back steals that Bonam took the distance and finished at the rim both times. Bonam finished with a career-high 26 points.
“I was the only one,” said Bonam. “I was the only senior, so I put more heart into it. With more seniors on the team, they just try to take it upon themselves to do stuff because they’re seniors and it’s their last game at home. With me being the only one, I could do more than I usually do, basically, and I hope that I can just keep it up for the rest of the postseason.”
By sweeping both California and Stanford to end the season, Utah finished in fourth place all by itself behind only three Top-10 teams in Oregon, Arizona and UCLA. Not bad for a team that the media predicted would finish eighth in the Pac-12.
Next up for the Runnin’ Utes is a likely rematch with California (the winner of the California and Oregon State game on Wednesday afternoon) in the conference tournament quarterfinals at 3:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The winner will likely face Oregon in the semifinals on Friday evening.
The Red Rocks finish up their regular season on the road against Georgia on Saturday afternoon.
Here’s hoping the Runnin’ Utes finish strong in the Pac-12 Tournament and get a shot at some meaningful post-season play, while the Red Rocks fine tune their skills in preparation for the post-season as well.
Bleeding Red is sports column written by Dwayne Vance. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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