facebook-pixel

In a pressure-packed season, Utah’s Maile O’Keefe is starting to look like the reigning Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year

The Utes host the Pac-12 Championships on Saturday at Maverik Center

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maile O'Keefe reacts after competing on the bean for Utah in the PAC-12 Gymnastics Championship tournament at the Maverik Center, on Saturday, March 20, 2021. O'Keefe and the Utes will look for a repeat performance this weekend.

Looking back on her season, Maile O’Keefe offers she hasn’t felt quite at her best. She has been good, even stellar at times, but just not quite where she wanted to be.

“I internalized a lot of the pressure I was feeling from last year and I had to let go of that,” she said.

Apparently, her effort in Utah’s last home meet was a sign of what she hopes to bring in the postseason. Against Minnesota, O’Keefe scored 10.0s on the bars and beam and a 9.95 on the floor.

She was slated to go in the all-around at LSU but had to sit out due to illness. She is expected to perform in the all-around at the Pac-12 Championships Saturday in the Maverik Center, which would give her a chance to repeat her incredible run of a year ago.

Pac-12 Championships

Maverik Center

Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

TV: Pac-12 Network

(National qualifying score in parentheses)

Utah (197.87), Cal (197.22), Oregon St. (197.04), Arizona St. (196.88)

UCLA (196.795), Stanford (196.415), Washington (196.29), Arizona (196.23)

Then, O’Keefe was named the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year, winning everything but the vault. She capped off her year by winning the regional beam title then the NCAA uneven bars and floor championships.

It was a wild blur of success that O’Keefe had processed just in time to get a little overwhelmed as the 2022 season started.

She is in a better place now mentally, she said.

“I don’t think there was a singular turning point,” she said. “I had some good routines I just couldn’t put together everything at one time. I feel like I am still working on that but senior night was a good performance. Now I want to recreate that five more times.”

O’Keefe was referring to the number of times the Utes hope to compete with the Pac-12 championships, regionals and nationals combined.

To be successful in that stretch, the Utes need to find some additional tenths, whether it is in stuck landings, crisp handstands or lineup changes.

One expected change is O’Keefe’s presence in the vault lineup. It isn’t her favorite event, but she has the potential for big scores. She earned a 9.825 in her only appearance this season, against Stanford.

She was slated to go against LSU until she had to be scratched.

Making such a change to the lineup might be a gutsy call with some, but not with O’Keefe. She has a knack for making her gymnastics look fluid and effortless in some of the most high-pressured moments.

“She is someone who just lets her gymnastics happen,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “I don’t have a crystal ball and she has only been through one postseason since she is a junior so I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but she just goes out and does her thing.”

On Saturday the Utes hope “that thing,” will translate into some winning routines.

Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.