SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The #3 Utah Gymnastics posted its highest season-opening score since 2005 and third-best in program history en route to a win over sixth-ranked LSU, downing the Tigers 197.275-196.775 on Friday night at the Huntsman Center. Behind the raucous crowd of 11,595 fans in Salt Lake City, Utah improved to 62-6 in season openers with tonight’s win.

“It was so important for us to start like we did tonight,” said head coach  Tom Farden. “We were throwing a lot of new skills and new athletes, so we felt it was a great start for the program. The two mistakes we had tonight were both new skills. When you throw 11 new skills in one meet, something could go awry and they were just misjudged. Nothing that they can’t fix, won’t fix, and don’t want to fix. Really pleased with this starting point.”

The 2023 season kicked off with the return of Jillian Hoffman, who led off the vault lineup after making her return from a season-ending Achilles tear last year. Hoffman scored a 9.825 before Abby Brenner and Lucy Stanhope fired off 9.875s on their Yurchenko 1.5s. Makenna Smith followed with a 9.90 in the fourth spot, which would go on to win a share of the vault title for her first career routine as a Ute.

Grace McCallum was overly aggressive on her vault, causing her to sit it down, but the reigning national champion on vault, Jaedyn Rucker, scored a 9.875 to push Utah to a 49.350 in the first rotation. Utah led LSU by three tenths as it rotated to bars.

On bars, Utah received 9.80s from Brenner and Sage Thompson, while Smith and Maile O’Keefe would add 9.85s to the rotation. After Cristal Isa posted a 9.775, McCallum bounced back with a 9.925 to win the event. The Tigers managed to trim the lead narrowly, but the Red Rocks still led 98.575-98.300 at the halfway mark.

Returning every routine from the nation’s top-ranked beam team from 2022, Utah looked at ease on the event once again and scored a 49.475 to extend the lead. Amelie Morgan led off the group as she had done all last season as well, starting the lineup with a 9.825. Utah gathered three consecutive 9.875s from Isa, McCallum and Paulson, before Kara Eaker continued the hot-streak and posted a 9.90 in the fifth spot. Left with an already solid beam rotation, O’Keefe put on a show for the fans and posted a meet-high 9.95.

Holding a 148.050-147.675 lead, Utah hit its five floor routines in a row to lock up the season-opening win. Paulson kicked off the rotation with a 9.80, while Jaylene Gilstrap, O’Keefe and McCallum all added 9.85s. Smith threw in a rotation-high 9.875 for the Red Rocks in the fourth spot to round out the scoring five. Utah’s floor score of 49.225 pushed the final score to 197.275 and secured the season-opening victory.

Utah will stay local and make the short drive to the Maverik Center in West Valley City, Utah, to compete in the Rio Tinto Best of Utah. The Red Rocks are set to take on BYU, Southern Utah and Utah State at 7 p.m. MT on Friday, Jan. 13.