Utah Gymnastics Is Headed To NCAA Finals Tomorrow In Fort Worth
FORT WORTH - After a late rally at Dickies Arena on Friday night for the Utah gymnastics team with a season-high push from the bars set, Utah's determination and fight until the end came through and earned the program a berth in the NCAA Finals tomorrow afternoon. Utah placed second behind Oklahoma (198.0875), while outlasting Alabama (197.5750) and LSU (197.5625) to advance.
Utah played from behind the entire meet after falling to fourth place from an uncharacteristic beam set. The floor team exploded for a 49.6 to cut the gap, but remained in third place after floor and through vault's rotation. The Utes needed to overcome a three-tenth deficit to catch the current second-place team as Utah headed to the uneven bars.
Abby Paulson started the rotation with a 9.825 and the lineup took it from there. Alani Sabado then tied her career high on the biggest stage, scoring a 9.875, which was then followed by a career-high 9.8875 from Alexia Burch. Emilie LeBlanc tied her career mark as well with a 9.90 before Maile O'Keefe and Cristal Isa put the exclamation marks on the rotation with a 9.95 and 9.90, respectively.
O'Keefe's career-tying mark earned her a second event victory of the night to become a national champion on the uneven bars and on floor after she recorded a 9.9625 on floor. Utah's season-high 49.5125 on bars pushed the team score to 197.600 – just enough to walk away in the top-two and advance to tomorrow's final round after finishing 0.025 ahead of Alabama. Utah's bar lineup posted the highest team bar score of the session despite the uneven bar team coming into the meet ranked the lowest among the four squads.
Utah started the night on the balance beam and did not produce what the set had been so consistently hitting all year. Utah found itself in fourth place after the beam team recorded a 49.250. The Utes hit all six routines, but could not ring in any scores above the 9.90 mark. Burch starting the group with a 9.875, which went on to tie for a team-high with Isa two routines later. Adrienne Randall posted a 9.85, while O'Keefe tallied a 9.8375. Lucy Stanhope and Paulson each totaled 9.8125s.
The floor team cut the gap after exploding for a 49.6, but remained in third place. Isa started the rotation with a 9.90, while Paulson added a 9.8875 and Stanhope tallied a 9.875. Utah then received three big scores to cap off the set from Jaedyn Rucker, O'Keefe and Sydney Soloski. Rucker earned a 9.915, while Soloski posted a 9.9375. O'Keefe scored a 9.9625 that went on to earn a share of the floor title – the first of two titles for the Ute sophomore on the night.
Before Utah took the night away on bars, the vaulters put up a 49.2375 in the third rotation. O'Keefe led off the group with a 9.8125, while Utah's highest mark came in the second spot from Cammy Hall with a 9.875. Isa posted a 9.8375 and Stanhope followed with a 9.8625. Rucker then added a 9.8375, while Burch rounded out the group with a 9.8250.
After Utah fought until the very end and steam-rolled through bars, the team waited and watched as Alabama and LSU finished out on floor and beam, respectively. After the final routines from each squad rolled in, Utah let out a triumph as the team saw the final scores flash on the scoreboard and knew they would have one more meet this season – the NCAA Championship Final.
Along with O'Keefe's individual victories to become a two-time individual national champion, Utah also collected NCAA All-American honors following the day's competition. O'Keefe became a first-team NCAA All-American on bars and floor, along with second-team honors in the all-around. Earning second-team honors were Soloski on floor, along with Isa and LeBlanc on the uneven bars. Each event's top four finishers by session earn first team honors, while the fifth through eighth place finishers earn second team honors.
Utah will begin its run for the National Championship tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. MT/2:30 p.m. CT at Dickies Arena. Utah will be televised live on ABC and will compete against Florida, Oklahoma and Michigan. The Utes will begin on bars, followed by beam, floor and vault.