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Utah gymnastics freshman Jaylene Gilstrap’s artistry on floor is getting big scores — and some attention

The McKinney, Texas native passes on peppy music and dance moves in favor of a more refined approach, backed by solo violin

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jaylene Gilstrap performs on the floor, in PAC-12 gymnastics action Utah vs Arizona, at the Huntsman Center onSaturday, Jan. 23, 2021.

Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden still laughs about the time he first noticed Jaylene Gilstrap. He had no choice but to notice her.

“There was this kid and she was nuts,” he said. “She was taking three times as many turns as the others. I was there to watch somebody else but I couldn’t help watching her.”

Farden’s interest in Gilstrap didn’t end that day, he watched her grow from a Level 8 gymnast to an elite to a Utah signee.

Now a freshman for the Utes, Gilstrap has the responsibility of leading off on the floor. Gilstrap’s routine is an attention getter for what it isn’t. While most routines are done to peppy music and choreographed with dance moves found more often in a club, Gilstrap’s routine focuses on artistic dancing backed by a slow track heavy in violin.

It’s a beautiful routine that has garnered her rave reviews and big scores. Gilstrap has earned a 9.85 or higher in four of her five performances.

UTAH VS. UTAH STATE

At the Huntsman Center

When • Friday, 7 p.m.

Gilstrap gives floor coach Courtney McCool Griffeth credit for giving her strong choreography.

“Courtney looked at all my routines I did back in club and took specific things from them that I did well and put them in the routine,” she said. “Other coaches had tried to get me out of my comfort zone and she wanted me to focus on my strengths so it’s a fun routine to do.”

Using a lower paced routine on the floor can be risky because crowds might not respond as well, so the energy could be taken out of an arena rather than adding to it. Judges aren’t supposed to be swayed by crowd reaction, but you don’t want a dud in the floor lineup, particularly as the leadoff.

Luckily for the Utes, Gilstrap’s floor works so well, it’s hard to look away and is the attention-getter the Utes had hoped it would be.

“The quality of her movement patterns puts her among some of the best the Red Rocks have had recently,” Farden said. “Her ability to go out there and do what she does as a freshman is impressive. Her movements are mesmerizing.”

A native of McKinney, Texas, Gilstrap said she is honored to have the leadoff role on floor, knowing she is setting the tone for the team.

Some nerves are there, knowing she is in an important role, but so too is confidence, which harkens back to those early days of training that Farden saw. She remains a gym rat.

“I think the thing I love the most about gymnastics is you can never be perfect, you are always looking for improvements every day,” Gilstrap said.

Gilstrap’s dedication moved her quickly through the club levels. Now at Utah, Farden predicts she will be pushing for more chances to compete, envisioning she could be an all-around gymnast.

“She is a high level athlete,” Farden said. “She draws you in and you can’t look away.”

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