Strong Semifinal Finish Sends Utah Gymnastics Back To The NCAA Final
FORT WORTH, Texas – Utah Gymnastics used a strong finish to secure a spot in the NCAA final on Saturday after posting a 197.7125 to place second in the NCAA Championship semifinal this afternoon. The Utes are making their second consecutive appearance in the Final Four with the new format beginning in 2019. Oklahoma (198.1175) finished in first place, while Utah edged Minnesota (197.1125) and Alabama (197.100) to advance.
"Super proud and total team effort out there today," said head coach Tom Farden. "Looking back at the meet and the start on floor exercise – it is a little bit tricky starting on floor because you have that adrenaline, have to have that performance quality, you have nervousness, and I really thought the athletes handled it well. Vault has been a little hit or miss for us and we have a lot of difficulty with five 10.0 vaults. They started feeding off each other and as a coach that is what you want to see."
Farden continued, "We put the brakes on a little bit on bars. We felt like we started to guide our gymnastics and athletes that are typically exceptional on the uneven bars were trying a little too hard to be too perfect. There were some mistakes out there so we gathered the team and had a brief talk about letting your gymnastics happen and staying in the moment, which is exactly what they did on balance beam. They went over there and did a phenomenal job. Being in the final four for consecutive years just means so much to the program and the athletes, and we are just very excited for the opportunity on Saturday."
Utah began the competition with a strong performance on floor to jump into first place from the start with a 49.475. Abby Paulson and Jaylene Gilstrap opened the lineup with a 9.85 and 9.825, respectively, before Jaedyn Rucker posted a 9.8875 to continue the momentum. Grace McCallum followed with a team high 9.9375, while Maile O'Keefe started her night in the all-around with a 9.8875. Rounding out the solid start to the competition was Sydney Soloski, who tallied a 9.9125 to lift the event score.
On vault, the group of six put together one of their best performances of the season under pressure. O'Keefe started the unit with a 9.825, while Lucy Stanhope built off of the routine with a 9.85. Rucker, who recorded her career best vault a year ago in Dickies Arena, felt just as comfortable this year as she stuck her Yurchenko 1.5 to score a meet-high 9.9625. Alexia Burch followed with another stick to earn a 9.925. McCallum posted a 9.8625 and Cammy Hall added a 9.80 to end the rotation at a 49.425, which was the best score for Utah on vault since the start of February.
Utah sat in second place at the halfway point, trailing just 0.025 to Oklahoma and ahead of the third-place Alabama by 0.375. The Utes couldn't find a groove on bars the next rotation despite the nice start from Amelie Morgan, who scored a 9.875. McCallum couldn't find her landing and would go on to score a 9.725. After Paulson added a 9.8125, the rotation began to find some energy as Sage Thompson and O'Keefe posted consecutive 9.90s. Utah couldn't capitalize after Cristal Isa posted a 9.70 in the final spot.
Utah's 49.2125 on bars left the team with a 148.1125 heading into the final rotation in second place, which was 0.1375 ahead of Alabama in third place. The top beam team in the country would close out the meet with a trip to the Final Four on the line. Morgan led off the team exceptionally as she has done all season and posted a 9.90. McCallum recorded a 9.8875, while two-time Pac-12 beam champion Paulson exploded for a 9.9375.
Isa followed with a solid 9.875, and the final two beam workers for Utah ended the meet with statement routines. Kara Eaker and O'Keefe punched Utah's ticket into the final with back-to-back 9.9375s to tie with Paulson as the high score of the day on beam. Utah posted a 49.600 on beam to advance comfortably over Minnesota and Alabama.
Following both sessions of the NCAA Championship semifinals, Jaedyn Rucker has been crowned the 2022 NCAA Vault Champion. Rucker becomes just the fifth Red Rock in history to win a national title on vault.
Rucker posted the highest score between both of Thursday's competitions with her Yurchenko 1.5 that scored a 9.9625. The Mesa, Ariz., native joins Elaine Alfano, Megan McCunniff (Marsden), Kristen Kenoyer, and MyKayla Skinner as national champions on vault. Alfano won titles in 1982, 1983 and 1985, McCunniff won in 1984, Kenoyer won in 1992, while Skinner was previously the most recent Ute to win the NCAA vault title in 2018.
Utah will compete for a national championship this Saturday, April 16 at 11 a.m. MT on ABC. The Utes will take on top-ranked Oklahoma, second-ranked Florida and seventh-ranked Auburn.