Utah gymnastics team beats UCLA as Utes set school record on balance beam, led by Abby Paulson’s 10.0

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Abby Paulson on the beam as the University of Utah hosts Arizona State, NCAA gymnastics in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.

“Wait, wait, wait.”

Those were the words Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden said to his team following Abby Paulson’s 10.0 on the balance beam. He knew the math in his head, that Paulson’s score made it impossible for the UCLA Bruins to beat his team even if former Olympian and UCLA star Kyla Ross earned a perfect mark on floor. But he wanted to wait until the official score flashed on the scoreboard for the result to be real.

When it did, and it showed the Utes had beaten the Bruins 198.075-198.025, the Utes burst into a team celebration in Pauley Pavilion on Sunday in Los Angeles.

Statistically speaking, Utah’s win over the Bruins shouldn’t be that stunning; after all, the teams went into the Pac-12 showdown tied for third nationally averaging 197.01. But anyone who follows collegiate gymnastics knows what a big deal the outcome is.

The Utes are a super young team replacing 14 of the routines that competed at nationals a year ago. The Bruins are on the other side of the spectrum, with just three new routines from last year’s squad that placed third.

But there were the young Utes, not only going toe-to-toe with the Bruins, but beating them on their own floor. The Utes aren’t the first to do so this year — Washington upset the Bruins at home in January — but the win for the Utes means more than just a great road score. It is bigger than that. It means it is time to shift the thinking that this could be a rebuilding year for the Utes and they need to be thought of as a legitimate contender for the national title.

They’ve simply been too good in too many situations this year to put them in any other category.

“It feels amazing,” said Utah senior Kim Tessen. “We obviously still have some things that could have been better, but to get a huge score and beat UCLA on their home turf gives us a big boost of confidence.”

Farden called it a “good solid win on the road,” but acknowledged the performance indicated there was more to it.

“It is every coach’s dream to coach a national championship team, and the four coaches on the staff, that is our goal and we are working and recruiting and coaching to achieve that,” he said.

Utah led by just 0.075 going into the final rotation, where the Bruins finished on floor and the Utes were on beam. Conventional wisdom says the meet was the Bruins’ to lose at that point, since they are ranked No. 1 on the event, averaging 49.536. The Utes are good on beam, averaging 49.388, but producing a big score in the Bruins’ house was a tall order.

But the Utes didn’t just produce a big score, they set a school record, totaling 49.775. The previous high was 49.65 set in 1995.

Paulson led the Utes with her 10.0. Adrienne Randall added a 9.975, Alexia Burch and Cristal Isa had 9.95s, Maile O’Keefe had 9.9.

“It was a really unbelievable beam routine,” Farden said of Paulson. “It was a masterpiece. She was really in a good space and just took care of what she normally does.”

If there were any thoughts the Utes might be intimidated by the Bruins and their home crowd, the Utes showed they were ready to handle the pressure situation on the first event as they opened up with one of their best bars efforts of the year, scoring 49.6 with four gymnasts setting career highs. Tessen led the way with a 9.95 while Isa and O’Keefe scored 9.925s and Emilie LeBlanc and Missy Reinstadtler had 9.9s.

UCLA totaled a 49.375 on the vault, led by Ross’ 9.95.

“We really wanted to make a statement on bars,” Farden said. “We even had problems with the clocks and didn’t know warmups had started so I was really proud of the bar squad and the way they got the meet started off for us.”

The Utes’ 0.225 lead was whittled down to 0.125 in the second rotation, with the Utes scoring a 49.225 on the vault and UCLA earning 49.325 on the bars. The Utes had 9.9s from Alexia Burch and Tessen, but other scores were lower than the Utes wanted to see with deductions for steps on the landings.

“I’m not going to be too critical, but we did want more out of vault,” Farden said.

The third rotation was thought to be the most crucial because the Utes would be on floor while the Bruins were on the balance beam, where they have struggled this year and rank just 22nd nationally, averaging 48.882.

Indeed it seemed the Bruins were going to take control as they broke out of their beam funk on Sunday, scoring 49.525. Grace Glenn scored a 10.0 in the leadoff spot and Ross had a 9.975.

The Utes countered with a 49.475 on the floor. Freshman Jillian Hoffman fell, but the rest of the Utes hit. Sydney Soloski had a 9.95, Isa had a 9.925 and O’Keefe and Randall had 9.9s.

Still, the rotation left the Utes with a mere 0.075 advantage going into the final rotation. No one could blame the home crowd if they sat back and waited for the Bruins to take the win. But instead it was the Utes who celebrated.

“Some things could have been better,” Tessen said. “But to go into a hostile environment and be able to get a 198 is a huge deal. We are all feeling happy and confident.”

No. 3 Utah 198.075, No. 3 UCLA 198.025

In short: Abby Paulson earned a 10.0 on the balance beam to lead the Utes in their first win in Pauley Pavilion since the 2018 season.

Key moment: The Utes had control of the meet from the start, scoring a 49.6 on the bars to start.

Key stat: Abby Paulson is the first Utah gymnast to score a perfect score on the beam since Ashley Postell did so in 2008.

Individual winners

Vault: Kyla Ross (UCLA) 9.95

Uneven bars: Kim Tessen (Utah) 9.95

Balance beam: Grace Glenn (UCLA) and Abby Paulson (Utah) 10.0

Floor: Nia Dennis (UCLA), Kyla Ross (UCLA), Gracie Kramer (UCLA) 9.975

All-around: Kyla Ross (UCLA) 39.825