Southern Utah University earned the title of Mountain Rim Gymnastics Conference champions with an impressive March 18 outing where they rounded up a score of 196.875 and raised their National Qualifying Score even further. The Brigham Young University Cougars clawed their way to second place with a total of 196.575, the Boise State University Broncos took third with a 196.000 and the Utah State University Aggies’ 195.825 score landed them in fourth.
Graduate student Karley McClain put on a clinic in the all-around, setting an incredible new season high of 39.525. The Flippin’ Birds snatched up three other first-place individual finishes, with McClain stealing the floor, sophomore Ellie Cacciola tying for the vault and freshman Trista Goodman tying for the bars.
The Cougars pulled ahead early with a team floor performance totaling 49.225, but SUU’s strong execution on the bars kept them in close range. Their team total added up to 49.100.
McClain killed it on the beam with a 9.925, complemented by Cacciola’s beautiful 9.900. The rest of the team rounded out the strong showing to propel the Flippin’ Birds ahead of BYU into the lead with an event score of 49.300.
On the floor, junior Hailey Vultaggio put up a 9.900 and McClain punched in another 9.925, but stumbles by two of SUU’s gymnasts meant one would have to count against the team score, landing them at a 49.175 for the event. The Flippin’ Birds’ meet total of 147.575 after three events slotted them in at first with the Cougars right on their tail feathers.
Cacciola dropped another 9.900 as SUU sealed the championship win on the vault. An event total of 49.300 boosted them well ahead of the other teams to secure their dominant victory.
McClain has more in the tank. She’s a phenomenal gymnast and has dominated all year in the all-around, showing she has the consistency it takes to excel in every event. She tied her previous season high of 39.475 several times this season, but in this meet, she took it one step further, making a dominant statement with the upcoming regionals. In her final year, McClain wants to go out on top, and she showed in this meet that she can pull together a performance to boost the Flippin’ Birds there.
The MRGC stands strong. SUU wasn’t the only team that impressed the judges. BYU shifted up a spot to land at No. 33 in the NCAA, while the No. 36 Broncos managed to slip in with the last ticket to a shot at regionals. With three of their four teams on the road to nationals, the MRGC continues to make a clear statement of their strength. This does, however, mean that SUU, currently ranked No. 21, may face conference opponents again this postseason.
The Flippin’ Birds can fly higher. After their high-scoring tri-meet last week yielded them a 196.900 score, SUU threw up yet another impressive performance. The last time the Flippin’ Birds strung together an impressive win streak, they capped it off with back-to-back totals of 197.125. If they can use their momentum to burst back into the 197-range, the fresh conference champions could extend their run at nationals past the first regional meet.
While BYU and Boise State will take a crack at the play-in round on March 29, SUU’s outstanding record locked their spot in NCAA regionals on March 30.
Story by: Kale Nelson
Photos courtesy of Anden Garfield