LOS ANGELES (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah gymnastics team posted its second-straight score of 198-plus at Pauley Pavilion to finish in first place with a 198.050 over #4 UCLA (197.925), #13 Missouri (197.600) and Washington (195.650) to qualify for the NCAA nationals for the 47th straight year.
The Utes remain the only team in the nation to have qualified to every national championship.
Utah could not have asked for a better start on Saturday night after collecting three scores of a 9.90 or better in three routines on vault. Maile O’Keefe led off the team with a career-high 9.925, while Abby Brenner and Jillian Hoffman each added 9.90s. Makenna Smith recorded a 9.85 before Jaedyn Rucker exploded for her second-straight Perfect 10 on vault at the regional competition.
Utah’s 49.575 put it ahead after the first rotation, while UCLA and Missouri followed behind tied in second place with a 49.400. The Utes kicked off the bars set with a 9.85 from Amelie Morgan and added a 9.875 immediately after from Smith. Brenner tallied a 9.85 and Sage Thompson added another 9.875. O’Keefe posted a 9.825, while Cristal Isa hit the 9.90-mark Utah had been looking for to close out the rotation. With the 49.350 on bars, Utah was tied with Missouri at a 98.925 after two events, while UCLA trailed the pair of teams with a 98.725.
Morgan led off beam with a 9.80, but the Red Rocks were able to begin building momentum as Kara Eaker bounced back from Thursday with a 9.95 this time around. Isa rounded out her night with a 9.875, while O’Keefe continued the hot start with another 9.95 for the group. Gilstrap rounded out the beam team with a 9.85 to drop Morgan’s score and Utah’s 49.525 would push the team back into first place with one rotation to go.
With the lead sitting at just 0.025 over UCLA and 0.075 over Missouri, the meet would come down to floor for Utah, vault for UCLA and bars for Missouri.
Brenner set the tone for the floor team with a leadoff 9.875, while consecutive 9.90s from Gilstrap and Paulson continued the momentum. Smith posted a career high 9.95 in the fourth spot to get Utah even closer to the finish line, while Rucker clinched Utah’s spot in the NCAA Championships with a 9.925. O’Keefe ended the night with another 9.925 for the floor squad, putting the exclamation point on the evening and pushing Utah to the regional win.
Rucker’s 10.0 on vault was her third this season after earning two perfect scores on vault in two competitions in Los Angeles. Rucker is now tied with Kristen Kenoyer (1993) for the single-season record for 10.0s on vault. She is also tied for the school record of three Perfect 10s on vault in a career with Kenoyer (1990-93), Annabeth Eberle (2002-05) and Tory Wilson (2012-15). She is the first Utah vaulter to record a 10.0 at an NCAA postseason event.
Utah’s regional title is its 34th in program history and third straight. The Red Rocks remain the only team in the nation to have appeared at every national championship. The quest for an NCAA title begins Thursday, Apr. 13, in Fort Worth, Texas. Utah will compete in the NCAA Semifinal against #1 Oklahoma, #4 UCLA and #9 Kentucky in two weeks in Forth Worth, Texas.