FORT WORTH, Tex. (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah gymnastics team will have a shot at its first national title in 27 years.
The Red Rocks finished second behind #1 Oklahoma in the semifinals Thursday, putting up a score of 197.7125, and will advance to Saturday’s championship meet along with the Sooners, Florida and Auburn.
“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.”
Utah finished strong on it best event, the beam, to clinch a spot in the finals. Amelie Morgan started the team off with an impressive 9.900 lead-off score, and her teammates capitalized on that momentum, with Abby Paulson, Kara Eaker and Maile O’Keefe all scoring a 9.9375, the highest marks of the day on beam. Utah posted a meet-best 49.600 on the beam.
Minnesota finished third, while Alabama ended up in fourth place.
The Utes started the meet strong on the floor, with freshman Grace McCallum posting a 9.9375, and senior Sydney Soloski adding a 9.9125. Maile O’Keefe and Jaedyn Rucker turned in dynamic performances, each earning a 9.8875. Utah took the lead after the first rotation, compiling a score of 49.475.
Rucker led the way on vault, posting a 9.9625 on the vault, with two judges giving her a perfect 10. The score earned Rucker an individual national championship in the event. The Utes stayed in contention for a first place finish with a score of 49.425. Alexia Burch added a 9.925 for Utah.
“I love doing it for my team,” Rucker said about her vault. “I have them in my mind every time, just go out there and nail it.”
But Oklahoma took control of the meet in the third rotation, as Utah struggled on the bars. Sage Thompson and O’Keefe had Utah’s top scores, each earning a 9.90. But the Utes total score of 49.2125 took them out of contention for the title.
However, Utah finished with a flourish on beam to clinch second place.
“We put the brakes on a little bit on bars,” Farden said. “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.”
The championship meet featuring Utah, Oklahoma, Florida and Auburn will air on ABC4 at 11:00 a.m. Saturday.