Utah Gymnasts Win 2021 Pac-12 Championships
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – A fall in the first routine of the night could have easily shaken the No. 6-ranked Utah gymnasts, but the power of momentum took over and the Ute gymnasts had just enough left in them on vault to hold on for their fourth Pac-12 Championship and sixth conference title overall.
Thanks to three season-high event scores, Utah posted a season-high 197.725 to sit at the top of the team standings and be crowned the outright champions. No. 5 California finished second (197.375), No. 13 UCLA finished in third (196.725), while No. 11 Arizona State placed fourth (196.375).
It was a night of standout performances for the Utes as five Red Rocks earned at least one event victory to be named a Pac-12 champion. Maile O'Keefe posted a 39.700 in the all-around to earn the outright Pac-12 all-around title, along with claiming co-champion status on bars, beam and floor with 9.95s on all three events.
It was fitting for the Ute sophomore to collect four-of-five titles on the conference stage, dominating the meet after a standout season that earned her the 2021 Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year award, which was announced at the award ceremony post-meet.
Cristal Isa earned the status of a Pac-12 co-champion on bars and beam, while Abby Paulson joined O'Keefe and Isa for a share of the conference beam title. Along with O'Keefe, Jaedyn Rucker and Sydney Soloski also earned titles of Pac-12 co-champions on floor. Rounding out the Utah awards for the night, Alexia Burch was awarded the Pac-12 Specialist of the Year by the conference's coaches.
Solid all season as Utah's uneven bars leadoff, Abby Paulson had an uncharacteristic fall in the first routine that left Utah with an uphill battle from the get-go. Alani Sabado and Alexia Burch hit with 9.775s, but it wasn't until Emilie LeBlanc's 9.875 that allowed Maile O'Keefe and Cristal Isa to let loose and swing to 9.95s to end the rotation and post a season-high 49.325 as a unit despite the start.
The back half of the bars lineup that led the group all season put the meet into motion and the Utah beam team continued the trend. After Utah sat in second place following the first rotation, the beam set wasted no time in cutting the deficit and taking the lead after exploding for a season-high 49.675. O'Keefe, Paulson and Isa collected 9.95s to win shares of the beam title, while Adrienne Randall posted a 9.925 and Burch led off the set with a 9.90.
With the lead pushed to just 0.050 ahead of UCLA in second place at the time, the floor lineup fed off the energy and rattled off Utah's third-straight season-high event score – this time recording a 49.675 on floor. Isa continued her strong night with a leadoff 9.90, which was then followed by Abby Paulson's 9.925. Lucy Stanhope collected another 9.90 before the final three routines powered through for 9.95s across the board. Becoming eventual floor co-champions from the 9.95s, Rucker, O'Keefe and Sydney Soloski pushed the Utah lead to 0.375 over UCLA, who was still in second place, and looked to vault to secure the win.
Utah needed to hit vault cleanly to go on and win itself a championship. The Red Rocks had a great start after a pair of Yurchenko Fulls from Isa and O'Keefe scored 9.85s. Isa had a phenomenal night in the all-around, recording a career-high 39.650 to finish in second behind O'Keefe. Stanhope stumbled on her landing, but was able to tally a 9.725 before Rucker posted a 9.825. Burch then sat down her Yurchenko 1.5 and left the meet in the hands of Sabado, who was inserted late and had not competed a scored vault to this point. With the meet on the line, the Ute freshman came through when it mattered most and clinched the Utah win with a 9.80 in her vault debut.
Utah is set to host the 2021 Salt Lake City NCAA Gymnastics Regional on Thursday through Saturday, April 1-3 at the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah. The Utes will find out who will join the regional this Monday, March 22 during the NCAA Selection Show at 3 p.m. MT on NCAA.com.