Utah Gymnastics Advances To Record 46th-Straight National Championship
SEATTLE – Utah Gymnastics punched its 46th-straight ticket to the national championships in dramatic fashion on Saturday evening, using a pair of Perfect 10s on beam to clinch the NCAA Seattle Regional win with a postseason school-record 198.200. No. 4 Utah persevered through adversity in the final rotation to end up producing a massive 49.725 on beam to finish in first place over No. 5 Alabama (198.175), No. 12 Michigan State (197.650), and Stanford (197.250).
"I really liked the athletes focus on the way over," said head coach Tom Farden. "You could really feel it. It was a good culmination of the weekend in terms of what we did on Thursday and then stepping it up and doing it again tonight. Super pleased and proud of the total team effort."
Farden continued, "There is so much parity. You have to be dang close to flawless to get into the last day at nationals. This was just another barn burner and we had one just to get to here. You can see it across the country how tight things are and it speaks volumes about the level our sport is at."
Utah set the tone immediately with a 49.600 on floor after the Red Rocks recorded four 9.90s and a pair of 9.95s to start the night. The consistency from the floor team began with the return of Abby Paulson to the leadoff spot after she had missed Thursday's semifinal because of a back injury, while the rest of the floor team followed the phenomenal start. Paulson, Jaylene Gilstrap, Jaedyn Rucker and Maile O'Keefe produced 9.90s, and Grace McCallum and Sydney Soloski tied for the top score of the night with 9.95s on floor.
The 49.600 from the first rotation left Utah leading the competition on its way to vault. The Utes earned another tremendous start from O'Keefe with a 9.875, which was followed by a 9.80 from Lucy Stanhope. The highlights of the rotation came in the middle from Rucker and Alexia Burch, who recorded consecutive 9.90s, before McCallum continued her strong night with a 9.925. Cammy Hall posted a 9.80 to close the event and leave the rotation score at a 49.4.
Sitting at a 99.000, Utah moved to bars and held steady enough with a 49.475 to sit in second place heading into the last event. Amelie Morgan scored another 9.90 as the leadoff, while McCallum wrapped up her night with a second 9.95, which went on to be Utah's highest score of the rotation. Burch added another 9.90 and Sage Thompson recorded a 9.85 to add to the event and after a slight mistake from O'Keefe, Cristal Isa posted a 9.90 to drop her score and finish bars strong.
Utah was trailing first place (Alabama) by half a tenth, while it lead the third place team at the time (Michigan State) by 0.225. The beam set started off with a 9.90 from Morgan, who has been consistent as ever in that position, while Adrienne Randall followed with a 9.85. Burch came off the beam on her series the next routine and the entire meet would hang in the hands of Utah's final three gymnasts.
After a long pause while waiting to salute the judge to start for Isa, she walked through a near-perfect routine and put up a phenomenal 9.975 to get the team back on track. Kara Eaker continued the momentum from Isa's routine into her own and went on to record the first Perfect 10 of her career. Under immense pressure in the final routine, O'Keefe finished the night in the most dramatic fashion as she posted Utah's second-straight 10.0 on beam to win the meet and send Utah to the NCAA Championships.
"I just needed to do a normal routine and obviously that is easier said than done," said O'Keefe on her meet-winning routine. "I was shaking in my boots, but I trust myself and was just obviously nervous. I think that is okay and just shows that I care."
Utah and Alabama – the top two finishers of the NCAA Seattle Regional – will compete against top-ranked Oklahoma and eighth-ranked Minnesota in the afternoon semifinal on Thursday, Apr. 14, at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. The second semifinal will feature No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Auburn and No. 11 Missouri. The top-two finishers of each session will compete for a national championship on Saturday, Apr. 16.
NCAA Seattle Regional Final Notes:
- Utah advances to its 46th-consecutive national championship. Utah is the only program in the nation to qualify to every national championship, including all 40 NCAA Championships (began in 1982).
- Utah's 198.200 is the highest score in the postseason in program history.
- Utah has hit the 198-mark four times this season, which is the most in program history in a single season.
- Utah has won 33 regional titles (30 NCAA) and has finished second the other 13 years.
- Maile O'Keefe has now recorded three 10.0s on beam this season, which is the most all-time in a single season by any Red Rock. She now ranks second in program history with four 10.0s on beam in a career.
- Kara Eaker is the third Ute to record a Perfect 10 on beam this season.
- Utah now has five perfect scores on beam this season, which is the most all-time in a single season.