After an abrupt end to the 2020 season and a preseason filled with unexpected pauses and quarantines, the biggest question going into the Best of Utah gymnastics meet at the Maverik Center on Saturday was if the Utah Utes could overcome all the obstacles and be the kind of team they wanted to be.
Judging by their 196.9 effort Saturday, the fourth-ranked Utes managed to come throughthe last 10 months in decent shape, both mentally and physically. BYU was second with 195.7, followed by Southern Utah (194.325) and Utah State (194.1).
As expected, the Utes are behind in some of their power training and that showed on the floor and vault where the high level skills weren’t always there throughout the lineup.
But the absence of such isn’t a big deal right now since expectations are routines will be upgraded and more high valued vaults will be added as the season goes along.
The big takeaway was what the Utes did with what they had. For instance, their floor was very clean, save for a few uncharacteristic steps by Sydney Soloski, who earned just 9.775.
But if the Utes are going to have a successful season, they need to be able to succeed even when a veteran like Soloski has a mistake or two.
They did that Saturday with Jaedyn Rucker earning a 9.875 and Lucy Stanhope scoring 9.85 in their first floor routines for the Utes.
Maile O’Keefe provided the team’s high score of 9.9, Abby Paulson had a 9.875 and Cristal Isa opened the rotation with a 9.85. The Utes totaled a 49.35 for the floor, a score that has to be encouraging for those worried the Utes might be behind in their training.
“We hit 28 for 28 in routines counting every exhibition and we could have gone eight deep on some of the lineups,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “We showed we are ready to check the box in terms of consistency and do what they do in practice.”
Also notable is the other teams in the meet, BYU, Utah State and Southern Utah were also consistent. It will be interesting to see if the four teams can make an impact on a national scale.
The Utes certainly expect to be one of the teams aiming for the national title. They will find out just how they rank against the upper echelon on Jan. 17 when they compete at No. 2 Oklahoma, which has won three of the last four national titles.
For now they have to be happy with their opening effort.
“It was nice to have a meet not too far from home and to get one under our belt before Oklahoma, O’Keefe said. “There are things we can tighten up and fix, but it was a good start for us.”
While floor was a pleasant surprise, the Utes’ 49.375 on the balance beam was almost expected. The Utes return the same gymnasts that helped them to a No. 2 national ranking on the beam a year ago so the event should be the Utes’ strength again.
The Utes came through strong Saturday, although it was notable that the first two routines, by Alexia Burch and Emilie LeBlanc, where the shakiest producing 9.75 and 9.575, respectively. But the Utes showed the kind of mental strength they had last season finishing with a 9.9 from Isa, 9.875 from Adrienne Randall and 9.925s from O’Keefe and Abby Paulson.
“It was fun to be back out there,” Farden said. “It was a good jumping off point.”
Southern Utah 194.325
Utah State 194.1
Vault: Cammy Hall (Utah) 9.9
Uneven bars: Mayson Bentley (Southern Utah) 9.9
Balance beam: Maile O’Keefe (Utah) and Abby Paulson (Utah) 9.925
Floor: Abbey Miner-Alder (BYU) and Maile O’Keefe (Utah) 9.9
All-around: Cristal Isa (Utah) 39.4