Utah Gymnastics Advances To 45th-Straight National Championship
WEST VALLEY CITY – Following a season-high performance, Utah gymnastics continued the winning tradition of the program and advanced to its 45th-consecutive national championship after winning the Salt Lake City NCAA Regional Final on Saturday night. Utah posted a 197.925 – the third-best score of the night among the four regional sites – to clinch a berth at the 2021 NCAA Championships in two weeks.
It was a thriller inside the Maverik Center as all four teams fought tooth and nail for the top-two spots from start to finish. Utah held on to a lead for the majority of the meet and pulled it out in the end to outlast LSU (197.750), Arizona State (197.600) and Kentucky (197.600) for the win.
"From the first athlete that went on bars, we knew that they came here to compete," said Utah head coach Tom Farden. "I know the respective staffs pretty well and we knew this would be the hardest regional meet in the country and that was probably, in recent memory, the hardest regional I've been in. This new format is extremely difficult. We planned for this, trained for this and as coaches, you are just pleased it worked out."
Utah got the night started with a season-high 49.475 on the uneven bars to set the tone early. Utah received fix-of-six sticks from the lineup to finish the first rotation tied for the lead with LSU. Abby Paulson led off the group with a 9.85, while Alani Sabado followed with a career-tying 9.875.
Alexia Burch tallied a 9.825 before Emilie LeBlanc posted a career-tying and season-high 9.90 for the Utes. Maile O'Keefe started out her phenomenal night with a career-tying mark as well, posting a 9.95 in the fifth spot, before Cristal Isa wrapped the tremendous start with a 9.90. Throughout the first rotation, the Utah fan base was felt as stick-after-stick the arena became louder and louder.
"What a difference," said Farden on the Maverik Center crowd. "I don't know exactly how many Red Rock fans were in the building, but we really felt like it was a big tailwind for our program in terms of competing in front of a live crowd. Anytime you have 2,500 fans it is a different feel, but you can feel the passion. The fan base in Salt Lake City is something we don't take for granted. We know our athletes love competing for their fan base."
The Utes continued to feed off the energy from the fans as Utah's beam team once again shined and totaled a 49.600 in the second rotation to pull ahead at the halfway point. Burch got Utah off to a terrific start with a 9.90, while Lucy Stanhope pulled in a 9.85 right after. It did not take long for the big scores to come in once Isa and Paulson hopped on the beam with the pair of Red Rocks collecting back-to-back 9.95s. Adrienne Randall put up another 9.85 for the lineup, while O'Keefe earned another 9.95 to add on to the event score.
Rotating to floor, Utah held on to a 0.125 lead over LSU, who was in second place. Floor proved no different than the first two events as the Utes started strong and built up through the entire lineup. Isa led off the group with a 9.85, which was followed by consecutive 9.90s from Paulson and Stanhope. Jaedyn Rucker put up a 9.925 and had her performance followed by a pair of 9.95s from O'Keefe and Sydney Soloski.
Utah's 49.625 on floor extended the lead to 0.450 heading into vault. With the three teams on Utah's heels, Isa could not find her landing and started the vault set with a score that caused the meet to become even tighter. Cammy Hall fired off her Yurchenko 1.5 and scored a 9.825, while O'Keefe followed with a 9.85. Stanhope posted a 9.725 before Rucker exploded off the table and stuck her 1.5 to score a career-high 9.95 that was much needed. Needing a hit to end the night, Burch then sealed the meet as she hit and scored a 9.875 to leave all the worry behind and clinch a spot in Fort Worth.
O'Keefe, who finished the night with three 9.95s, placed second in the all-around with a score of 39.700 to lead Utah. She finished tied for first place on bars, beam and floor. Soloski also finished tied for first on floor, while Paulson and Isa tied for first on beam with O'Keefe.
Utah will compete at a record 45th-straight national championship and 39th-straight NCAA Championship (began in 1982) in two weeks at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. The two-day event will take place Friday and Saturday, Apr. 16-17.