Ute Gymnasts Repeat as Rio Tinto Best of Utah Champions
WEST VALLEY CITY – The No. 4-ranked Utah gymnasts were named the Rio Tinto Best of Utah champions once again on Saturday night at the Maverik Center after a dominating win over in-state foes No. 17 BYU, No. 23 SUU and Utah State. Utah, who never trailed tonight, posted a 196.900 to begin the 2021 season and moves to 3-0 overall following the podium event.
"It was really fun to be back out there with the gang," said head coach Tom Farden. "I thought our athletes handled it well. In terms of a first meet, it was a really nice meet as a jumping off point. We went 28-for-28 routines. That was our goal to come in here and hit, and hit every exhibition. One of the things you always worry about as a coach is consistency. By them coming out and hitting 28 routines showed they are ready to check that box, do what they do in practice, and simulate it in a meet.
Farden continued, "Their training has been going really well. Given the circumstances and challenges of the preseason, we were pleased with how we competed tonight. There are some things we need to do in terms of getting better, more refinement, and handling some of the details better, but we still think there is a big ceiling for this team."
The Red Rocks posted a 196.900 in the season opener to repeat as champions on the podium event. No. 17 BYU finished second with 195.700, while Utah State placed third with 194.350 and Southern Utah finished fourth with a 194.325.
Utah had a pair of gymnasts compete in the all-around to lead the way with junior Cristal Isa just edging out sophomore Maile O'Keefe for the all-around victory. Isa posted a 39.400 in the season opener, while O'Keefe tallied a 39.375 to finish in second place at the podium event. O'Keefe took a share of the floor title, as well as owning a share of the beam title with fellow sophomore Abby Paulson after the duo posted 9.925s on beam. Rounding out the Utah victories, Cammy Hall secured her first career win with a 9.90 on vault.
Starting the 2021 season on bars, Utah saw Paulson step into the leadoff spot to get things going. Paulson scored a 9.775 and was followed by the collegiate debut of Alani Sabado, who scored a 9.70. Senior Alexia Burch competed in her first career bars routine and went on to score a 9.80. O'Keefe scored a 9.775 before Emilie LeBlanc stepped in to add a 9.80. Closing out the rotation, Isa put up the highest bars score in the lineup with a 9.85 to give a rotation total of 49.00.
Burch and LeBlanc went one-two for the beam lineup, but it was Isa's 9.90 that sparked the rest of the rotation. Adrienne Randall followed with a 9.875 as the fourth gymnast up and the momentum continued down the line for the pair of regular season beam All-Americans – O'Keefe and Paulson. The pair of sophomores posted back-to-back 9.925s and pushed the Utes to a 49.375 on beam to lead all teams at the halfway point.
The Ute floor lineup came out hitting on all cylinders with the scoring five earning 9.85s or higher. Isa led off the group with a 9.85, which was followed by Jaedyn Rucker's collegiate debut. Rucker posted a 9.875 to get her career started after a long-waited time away from competition following a knee injury. Paulson continued her strong night with a 9.875 right after Rucker. Also debuting as a Red Rock on Saturday, Lucy Stanhope came through with a 9.85 on floor in her first event of the night. Rounding out the scorers, O'Keefe posted a 9.90 to lead the way.
Following the 49.350 from floor, Utah moved to vault to close out the event with hopes of repeating as Best of Utah champions. Utah's two Yurchenko 1.5s totaled the highest scores in the last event with Cammy Hall claiming the event win with a 9.90. Burch anchored the set with the second 1.5 for Utah and scored a 9.85. Rucker earned a 9.825, while Isa and Stanhope added 9.80s for the rotation. The Ute vaulters scored a 49.175 to cap off the meet and finish with a final score of 196.900 in the season opener.
The Utah gymnastics team will turn its attention to No. 2 Oklahoma as the two powerhouses are set to meet next Sunday, Jan. 17. The meet between the Utes and Sooners will be televised on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. CT in Norman, Okla.