Ute Gymnasts Win Second-Straight Pac-12 Regular Season Championship
CORVALLIS, Ore. – No. 4-ranked Utah gymnastics claimed its second-straight Pac-12 Regular Season Championship Friday night after a season-high performance, marking back-to-back seasons of an undefeated slate in Pac-12 regular season action. Utah (9-1, 6-0 Pac-12) downed No. 23 Oregon State (2-5, 1-4 Pac-12) 197.575-196.425 at Gill Coliseum to claim the regular season title.
"That is two years in a row in one of the toughest conferences to be unscathed and going undefeated two years in a row in our conference speaks volumes about our athletes' ability to win on the road and at home," said head coach Tom Farden. "Obviously the Pac-12 has the thoroughbreds and bluebloods, but also some rising and talented teams that really tested us this year. We are very proud of the program and are grateful that our athletes were in a good mind space tonight and did what they did."
— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 6, 2021
Having herself a career night, Ute sophomore Maile O'Keefe did her part to ensure Utah earn the outright Pac-12 title as she posted a career-high 39.725 in the all-around, which is the highest all-around score in the Pac-12 this season. O'Keefe won four of five titles in the conference finale for Utah when she won the all-around and beam title, along with a share of the vault and uneven bars titles. The Las Vegas native did not score below a 9.90 on any event and posted a career high on bars and tied a career mark on vault.
Utah got off to a slow start on bars to begin the meet, but steadily increased event scores as the night went on. The Ute uneven bars set totaled a 49.225 to get the night underway and was led by the final three routines of the rotation. Emilie LeBlanc picked Utah back up after Lucy Stanhope came off the bars in the third spot and posted a 9.875. Beginning the career night, O'Keefe set the tone early and posted a career-high 9.95 on bars. Cristal Isa anchored the set with a 9.90, while the remaining scoring routines came from Abby Paulson (9.725) and Alani Sabado (9.775).
Over on vault, it was O'Keefe and Rucker who led the Utes with a pair of 9.90s to earn a share of the vault title. O'Keefe tied a career mark, while it was Rucker's best of her career. Cammy Hall and Alexia Burch each recorded 9.85s for the Utes and Stanhope added a 9.825. Utah posted a 49.325 on vault and after mishaps from the Beavers on bars, led 98.550-97.625.
Halfway closer to the outright regular season title, Utah needed to close out the night on its two strongest events without any major mistakes. Jaylene Gilstrap stumbled on her second pass, resulting in a 9.650 from the leadoff spot for the Red Rocks.
The mishap didn't stop the rest of the lineup and saw back-to-back 9.85s afterward from Isa and Paulson to get things back on track. Utah piled in the big scores with Rucker and O'Keefe adding in 9.90s, while Sydney Soloski posted her seventh-straight score of 9.90 or higher, scoring a 9.925 tonight in Corvallis. Utah totaled a 49.425 on floor and pushed the lead to 147.975-146.975 heading into the final event of the night.
Utah's beam team left no doubt and rattled off a season-high 49.600 to secure the undefeated season in conference action. The stellar rotation counted only one score below a 9.90, with Stanhope and Adrienne Randall both posting a mark of 9.825.
Burch led off the set with a season-tying mark of 9.90, while Isa and Paulson posted back-to-back 9.95s in the midst of the lineup, which was both of the gymnasts second-straight 9.95 marks on beam. Propelled by her beam score, Isa rounded out her night with a season-high 39.475 to finish second in the all-around. Capping off the terrific set was O'Keefe, who continued her dominance on beam and posted yet another 9.975 as the nation's No. 1-ranked gymnast on beam.
"We had a lot of returners from last year on the balance beam so I think that has helped with familiarity," said Farden on Utah's beam progression this year. "They seem to be striking postseason form at the right time and we know that beam is an event for us that is a weapon. Tonight was pretty spectacular."
With the win over Oregon State, it is the third time since joining the conference that the Utes have gone undefeated in conference action and the second in two years. With the creation of the Pac-12 Regular Season Championship beginning last season, Utah has now won the only two regular season titles and has three Pac-12 Championships titles.
Utah will close out the regular season next Friday, March 12, hosting Utah State at the Jon M. Huntsman Center for senior night. The Utes and Aggies will compete at 7 p.m. MT. The meet will be live streamed.