Utah Gymnasts Place Third at NCAA Championships
FORT WORTH – Utah Gymnastics earned a third place finish in the NCAA for the second year in a row on Saturday afternoon at Dickies Arena. Utah posted a 197.750 to finish behind Oklahoma, which won the national championship with a 198.200, and Florida, which scored a 198.0875 to finish as the runner up.
"Overall, I thought we started the meet really strong on our first two events," said head coach Tom Farden. "We knew that we were going to have to have a pretty strong day on vault to keep pace. For one reason or another, it didn't quite shake out that way, and then we moved on to bars and I am really proud of the way we finished strong. We are going to hold our heads up high because it was a great year. It is an accomplishment for these athletes in terms of what they have achieved – not only this year, but over the past several years. Much to be proud of today."
Farden continued on the competition, "It is unbelievable to be out on that floor with so many world class athletes, Olympians, world team members, and national team members everywhere you look. You condense it down and obviously, there were several bluebloods on the floor. It is intense and this format is a meat grinder."
Utah started the NCAA final with the top-ranked beam team in the country up first. The lineup started strong with a 9.8875 from Amelie Morgan and a 9.875 from Grace McCallum. Ute junior Abby Paulson continued her hot streak on beam with a 9.90, while Cristal Isa followed with a 9.8375. The rotation highlight came in the fifth spot when Kara Eaker dazzled the crowd once again with an elegant 9.95 routine before Maile O'Keefe capped off the rotation with a second 9.90 for Utah.
The top beam team in the nation pushed Utah out ahead with its 49.5125. The momentum continued for the Utes onto the floor as Paulson brought her 9.90 in the previous rotation over to the second event to start the lineup. After the 9.90, Jaylene Gilstrap scored a 9.8625 and the scores continued to build with Jaedyn Rucker posting a 9.8875 and McCallum adding a 9.90. O'Keefe could not find a landing on her second pass the following routine and left fifth year senior Sydney Soloski needing to hit under pressure to drop the low score.
Soloski delivered as she had done all season and career long, scoring a team-best 9.9125. Soloski's finish put the Red Rocks at a 49.4625 on floor, which was good enough to hang on to the lead at the halfway point. Utah led the teams with a 98.975, but the competition was extremely tight as Florida (98.875), Oklahoma (49.850) and Auburn (98.625) were all within striking distance.
The Utes rotated to vault and struggled to find enough consistency on Saturday to keep in front of the competition. Rucker defended her NCAA vault title with no hesitation as she dropped in another stuck Yurchenko 1.5 for the second competition in a row. McCallum and Alexia Burch added 9.8375s to the count, while the final two scores of the rotation would go to O'Keefe (9.8125) and Lucy Stanhope (9.7625).
The 49.225 on vault dropped Utah into third place heading into the final rotation, trailing Florida by 0.175 and Oklahoma by 0.375. The fight did not stop for the Utes as the bars team went out with a 49.550, which was the second best of the day. Morgan capped off a brilliant season in the leadoff spot with a 9.90, while McCallum followed with a team-high 9.95. Paulson scored a 9.80 before Sage Thompson closed out her freshman season with a 9.9125. O'Keefe posted a 9.90 and Isa ended the competition for Utah with a 9.8875, which left the Utes ultimately walking away with a third place finish.
Utah ends the season with its second consecutive Pac-12 Championship, third-straight Pac-12 Regular Season Championship, second-straight NCAA Regional win, and a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships for the second year in a row as the only team to qualify for every NCAA Championship in history.