Fourth-ranked Utah gymnastics team defeats No. 3 Oklahoma

Advantage on balance beam helps Utes take victory at Huntsman Center

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s Grace McCallum performs on the beam at the Best of Utah NCAA Gymnastics Meet at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

Different year, different expectations and a different roster, but for the Utah gymnastics team one thing remained the same Friday — its balance beam work still can’t be touched.

The fourth-ranked Utes used their favorite event on Friday to defeat No. 3 Oklahoma 197.775-196.65 in front of 10,804 fans in the Huntsman Center.

The Utes were leading just 98.8-98.775 going into the balance beam, but totaled a 49.475 on the event to take command with a 148.275-147.975 lead.

It was just the kind of performance that the Utes were hoping to have.

“We were ranked fourth in the preseason so people thought we would be pretty good but we wanted to show them that we aren’t only going for fourth,” Sydney Soloski said. “We wanted to show the entire gymnastics conference we are a force to be reckoned with and are only going to get better.”

Individual winners

Vault: Jordan Bowers (Oklahoma) 9.975

Uneven bars: Sage Thompson (Utah) and Audrey Davis (Oklahoma) 9.925

Balance beam: Ragan Smith (Oklahoma) 9.975

Floor: Grace McCallum (Utah) 9.975

All-around: Grace McCallum (Utah) 39.675

The Utes powered through the balance beam with 9.925s from Cristal Isa, Grace McCallum and Maile O’Keefe and a 9.9 from Abby Paulson.

It was just the kind of effort fans have become accustomed to seeing from the Utes, who finished 2021 ranked third on the event and second in 2020.

That Utah would do so well isn’t a surprise, after all Utah returns several strong beam veterans such as Isa, O’Keefe, Paulson and Adrienne Randall, but it was comforting for the Utes to see freshmen Amelie Morgan (9.75) and McCallum performing so well under immense pressure.

“As we all know beam can be a separator,” Utah coach Tom Farden said.

As they did in the Best of Utah meet, the Utes gave the freshmen the task of being the first up on the event Friday.

Friday’s atmosphere was quite different from the season opener, when the Utes knew they were going to win barring some kind of crazy meltdown.

This time the Utes had the sport’s winningest program in recent seasons challenging them.

It was impressive how unfazed the Utes were. Later, McCallum admitted she is still getting accustomed to the atmosphere in the Huntsman Center, much less the whole idea of college gymnastics.

“The transition was harder than I thought it was going to be,” McCallum said. “As an elite you are going for as much difficulty as you can and in college it’s perfection, so it’s a totally different mindset.”

Once the Utes were on floor they competed like a team that knew they were going to win as they looked comfortable and relaxed on the final event.

McCallum got the fans on their feet with a 9.975 and they stayed there as Jaedyn Rucker followed with a 9.925, O’Keefe scored 9.85 and Soloski scored 9.925 for a 49.5 on the event.

Oklahoma, meanwhile, struggled on the balance beam. Though Ragan Smith had the top score on the beam (9.975), the Sooners suffered two falls and scored 48.675. The Sooners seemed rattled by Utah’s raucous crowd, or maybe it was just being in the unusual position of being behind in a meet.

For the Utes, getting such a high score early in the season was as satisfying as beating a national rival.

“We want to compete against the teams that have been knocking on the doors of the national championship,” Farden said. “They are a well-coached team and it was a barn burner for us. What it means is it’s another step in this process but hopefully we have 15 steps to take us where we want to go.”

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