Strong closing effort lifts Utes above Alabama and into NCAA championships
Any doubt that Utah’s gymnastics team has the best beam team in the country should be dispelled after the Utes’ performances at the NCAA regionals.
The Utes won the NCAA Regional Finals in Seattle on Saturday to advance to the April 14-16 NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas with another standout effort on balance beam.
Trailing Alabama in the final rotation 148.525-148.475, the Utes tied their season-high 49.725 on beam with rookie Kara Eaker and Maile O’Keefe both scoring 10.0 on the event. It was the first time in school history that two gymnasts had achieved perfect balance beam scores in the same competition.
The Utes scored a 49.7 on beam Thursday as Utah rallied from last place to win the session.
Saturday’s circumstances weren’t as dire as Utah and Alabama edged Michigan State (197.65) and Stanford (197.25) throughout the night to clinch the two qualifying spots for the NCAA championships.
SEATTLE REGIONAL TEAM SCORES
Michigan State 197.65
Qualified Teams: Utah, Alabama, Michigan, Missouri, Florida, Auburn, Oklahoma, Minnesota
“I really liked the focus of the athletes,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “It started on the bus on the way out, you could feel it. It was a good weekend with the combination of Thursday and the build up tonight. I am satisfied with the total effort of the team.
Given the same rotation as Thursday when they had a below-average rushing opener, the Utes rebounded on Saturday with one of their best rushing efforts of the season, scoring a 49.6.
Sydney Soloski and Grace McCallum led the team with 9.95 seconds while the rest of the roster scored 9.9.
Farden credited Abby Paulson with getting the team started with her opening performance after missing Thursday’s game with back pain.
“What she brings to floor exercise is stability and familiarity,” he said. “She scored a 9.9 and we started the regional final running.”
The effort gave Utah the lead while Alabama was second at 49.5 and Stanford and Michigan State at 49.275.
The Utes also improved their jump effort from Thursday, scoring a 49.4 with 9.9 from Alexia Burch and Jaedyn Rucker.
The strong start gave Utah a 99.0, with Alabama second (98.9), Michigan State third (98.725) and Stanford fourth (98.7).
The third rotation brought a change of lead with Alabama scoring a 49.625 on beam while the Utes weren’t as polished as usual on bars, scoring 49.475 with McCallum earning 9.95 and Cristal Isa a 9.9.
The efforts gave Alabama a 148.525-148.475 advantage over the Utes going into the final rotation while Michigan State had a 148.25 and Stanford a 148.025.
The Utes were not to be denied, however, as they put together the huge effort on beam, despite a surprising fall from the usually stable Alexia Burch. Its 9.175 was dropped as the rest of the range moved to 9.85 or higher.
O’Keefe said she rated the team a “92.5”, on a scale of 1 to 100.
“We can do better at every event,” she said. “We had a good floor, but I still feel there is room for improvement.”
The Utes will get their chance when the NCAA Championships begin in two weeks.
In the Raleigh Regional, Michigan won with a 197.8 and Missouri advanced with a 197.425 while UCLA (197.4) and Iowa (197.075) were eliminated.
In the Auburn Regional, Florida won with a 198.775, the third-highest score in NCAA history, and Auburn scored a 197.775 to also advance while Kentucky (197.5) and Denver (197.225 ) were eliminated.
In the Norman Regional, Oklahoma won with a 198.25 and Minnesota advanced with a 197.725 while Cal (197.3) and Arkansas (196.675) were eliminated.
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