Utah gymnastics keeping their talent a secret as long as possible as they prep for dream matchup vs. Oklahoma

Red Rocks to open against Sooners team that won three of the past five NCAA titles

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maile O'Keefe reacts after competing on the uneven bars for Utah in the PAC-12 Gymnastics Championship tournament at the Maverik Center, on Saturday, March 20, 2021.

Utah gymnastics coach Tom Farden likes to keep things close to the chest. He doesn’t like to talk about his methods, whether they are coaching, recruiting or mental preparations just in case someone out there might steal his success.

So no surprise he was a little tight-lipped when asked how practice is going thus far.

“I’m pleased,” he said. “The team is working hard and we are seeing progress.”

Yep, go ahead and laugh a little, Farden is trying to do his best to downplay the efforts of what on paper looks like one of Utah’s most talented teams in history.

The team returns two-time national champion Maile O’Keefe and All-Americans Cristal Isa, Abby Paulson, Sydney Soloski and Alexia Burch. Newcomers are Olympic silver medalist Grace McCallum, British Olympic bronze medalist Amelie Morgan, Olympic alternate Kara Eaker and uneven bars national champion Sage Thompson.

Really, any thoughts of keeping the potential of this team a secret are futile. The expectations are the Utes will be one of the top contenders for the NCAA Championship.

We will know early in the season if those expectations are on track, as the Utes open their home schedule Jan. 14 against Oklahoma, a team that has been a consistent presence in recent years in the race for the NCAA title.

The Sooners return four gymnasts who combined for 10 All-America honors in 2021 and helped the team finish second, just ahead of the Utes and just behind Michigan at the NCAA Championships.

Oklahoma won national titles in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019.

Farden said he started working on getting Oklahoma to Salt Lake City several years ago, hoping it could be a dream matchup.

“They are the team of the past decade and we wanted to get this matchup going,” he said. “I feel like it’s important for us to compete against the upper echelon and this will be a great opportunity to test where we are.”

While the matchup with Oklahoma is a highlight, it certainly isn’t the only one against top competition.

The Utes, who will preview the team Dec. 17 with their Red Rocks event in the Huntsman Center, also have difficult road meets on the schedule with UCLA and LSU. Utah also hosts Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon State.

The Pac-12 Championships are scheduled for March 19 at the Maverik Center. The NCAA regionals will be March 30-April 2 at Kentucky, North Carolina State, Auburn or Washington. The 2022 NCAA Championships will be held April 14-16 in Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Utes anticipate they will be able to have full attendance capacity for the Huntsman Center, with masks strongly encouraged for fans.

Getting back in front of a full crowd again is as exciting a prospect as anything for a team that averaged 15,273 fans in 2020, setting a new school and NCAA record for attendance for a women’s sport.

“For that crowd to not be there last year was hard because this team works hard and they want to show off what they can do,” Farden said. “It wasn’t ideal but we found a way to make it work, but we appreciate having our crowd there.”

By then, there won’t be any secrets to keep. Everyone should know the potential of the 2021-22 team.

“It’s every coach’s dream to win a national championship,” Farden said. “This team feels like taking that challenge on. We will prepare them and see what happens, see where 24 routines take us.”

2022 Schedule

Date Opponent Time (MT) Watch

Dec. 17 Red Rocks Preview 7 p.m. Live Stream

Jan. 7 Best of Utah at Maverik Center (BYU, SUU, Utah St.) 7 p.m. —

Jan. 14 Oklahoma 7:30 p.m. TBA

Jan. 21 Arizona St. 7 p.m. P12N

Jan. 29 Stanford 2 p.m. Live Stream

Feb. 4 at UCLA 8 p.m. TBA

Feb. 12 at California 5 p.m. Live Stream

Feb. 18 Oregon State 6 p.m. P12N

Feb. 21 at Washington 7 p.m. P12N

Feb. 25 at Arizona 6:30 p.m. P12N

March 4 Minnesota 7 p.m. Live Stream

March 11 at LSU 6:30 p.m. TBA

March 19 at Pac-12 Champ. TBD P12N

NCAA Postseason

March 30 NCAA Regional 1st Rd TBA

March 31 NCAA Regional semifinals

April 2 NCAA Regional finals

April 14 NCAA Champ. semifinals

April 16 NCAA Finals