No. 4 Utah Gymnasts Win Third-Straight Rio Tinto Best of Utah
WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – No. 4 Utah gymnastics cruised to a season-opening win Friday night at the Maverik Center, posting a 197.100 at the Rio Tinto Best of Utah to down No. 19 BYU, No. 25 SUU and Utah State. The Utes posted their highest total in a season opener since the 2019 season for the victory, while Utah State (195.875) finished in second, BYU (195.225) placed third, and Southern Utah (195.000) finished fourth.
"One of the things we wanted to do was hit 24 routines, which we were a little short on, but I do think the team handled some adversity," said head coach Tom Farden. "There were three freshmen in the beam lineup and for them to handle beam as their first event I thought was incredible. Floor, we had an out of bounds and responded after that, and then we had some last minute lineup changes on vault that they handled well. Lastly, we had an uncharacteristic mistake on bars and I thought the final two athletes did a great job to finish out."
Utah began the night by welcoming three of its freshmen to NCAA gymnastics with their first career routines coming on balance beam. Amelie Morgan, Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker all recorded 9.875s to set the tone and get their career underway. Cristal Isa, an All-American on beam, eased her way to a 9.90, and although an uncharacteristic slip from Abby Paulson ensued the next routine, Maile O'Keefe closed out the rotation with a 9.80. After one event, Utah led the group of in-state schools with a 49.375 and never trailed the rest of the way. Isa's 9.90 would go on to be the highest beam score of the night, marking her first event title of the season.
Rotating to floor, Paulson bounced back big for the Red Rocks and went on to post the highest score of the rotation with a 9.875. After Lucy Stanhope went out of bounds on her first pass, Utah looked to drop her score as the lineup went on. McCallum recorded a 9.85, while Jaedyn Rucker and Sydney Soloski tallied 9.825s. Rounding out the scoring five was Kara Eaker, who posted a 9.80, to push Utah's total to a 49.175 on floor.
Jillian Hoffman entered the vault lineup late into warmups after Eaker suffered an ankle injury and performed under pressure in the leadoff spot with a solid 9.80. Cammy Hall followed with a stuck Yurchenko 1.5 that earned a 9.875 for the Utes, while Stanhope collected a 9.80 the following routine. Utah added a 9.85 from Alexia Burch, while Rucker and McCallum dropped in stunning vaults, each scoring 9.90, earning a share of the vault title. Utah combined for a 49.325 on vault to push its score to 147.875 and hold a 1.1 point lead over the current second-place team.
It was Utah's freshmen once again leading off an event – this time bars – as Morgan and Sage Thompson began the final rotation. Morgan rounded out her excellent debut with a 9.825, while Thompson added a 9.80 in her first collegiate routine. Paulson ended her night strong with a 9.85, but the Utes were forced to rely on two hit routines from Isa and O'Keefe as the team saw McCallum miss a skill and record a fall.
Despite the adversity, the two uneven bars All-Americans posted consecutive 9.875s to end the season opener on a high note and claim a share of the event title. Utah posted a 49.225 on bars to hit 197.100 in the first meet of the season.
No. 4 Utah gymnastics will turn its attention to a top-four matchup in the Jon M. Huntsman Center next Friday, Jan. 14, hosting No. 3 Oklahoma for its home opener. The second and third place finishers from a year ago will square off at 7:30 p.m. MT on ESPN2 in Salt Lake City with introductions set to begin at 7:15 p.m. MT.