Any doubt that Utah’s gymnastics team has the best beam squad in the nation should be erased after the Utes’ performances at the NCAA Regional Championships.
The Utes won the NCAA Seattle Regional final Saturday to advance to the NCAA Championships April 14-16 in Fort Worth, Texas, with yet another standout effort on the beam.
Trailing Alabama going into the final rotation 148.525-148.475, the Utes tied their season high of 49.725 on the beam with freshman Kara Eaker and Maile O’Keefe both scoring 10.0s on the event. It was the first time in school history two gymnasts have earned perfect scores on the beam in the same meet.
The Utes scored a 49.7 on the beam Thursday, when Utah rallied from last place to win the session.
Saturday’s circumstances weren’t as dire as Utah and Alabama were ahead of Michigan State (197.65) and Stanford (197.25) throughout the night to clinch the two qualifying spots for the NCAA Championships.
SEATTLE REGIONAL TEAM SCORES
Michigan State 197.65
Qualifying teams: Utah, Alabama, Michigan, Missouri, Florida, Auburn, Oklahoma, Minnesota
“I really liked the athletes’ focus,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “It started on the bus on the way over, you could feel it. It was a good weekend with the combination of Thursday and stepping it up tonight. I’m pleased with the total team effort.”
Given the same rotation as they did Thursday when they had a subpar opening on the floor, the Utes rebounded Saturday with one of their best floor efforts of the season, scoring a 49.6.
Sydney Soloski and Grace McCallum led the team with 9.95s while the rest of the lineup scored 9.9.
Farden credited Abby Paulson for getting the team going with her opening performance after she missed Thursday’s meet with a back strain.
“The thing she brings to the floor exercise is stability and familiarity,” he said. “She scored a 9.9 and we started the regional final off and running.”
The effort gave Utah the lead while Alabama was second with 49.5 and Stanford and Michigan State had 49.275.
The Utes also improved their vault effort from Thursday, scoring a 49.4 with 9.9s from Alexia Burch and Jaedyn Rucker.
The strong start gave Utah a 99.0, with Alabama second (98.9), Michigan State third (98.725) and Stanford fourth (98.7).
The third rotation caused a lead switch with Alabama scoring a 49.625 on the beam while the Utes weren’t as polished as normal on the bars, scoring 49.475 with McCallum earning 9.95 and Cristal Isa a 9.9.
The efforts gave Alabama a 148.525-148.475 edge over the Utes going into the final rotation while Michigan State had a 148.25 and Stanford a 148.025.
The Utes weren’t to be denied though as they put together the huge effort on beam, despite a surprising fall from the usually steady Alexia Burch. Her 9.175 was dropped as the rest of the lineup went 9.85 or higher.
O’Keefe said she felt the team was a “92.5,” on a scale of 1-to-100.
“We can do better on every event,” she said. “We had a good floor set but I still feel like there is room for improvement.”
The Utes will get their shot when the NCAA Championships begin in two weeks.
In the Raleigh Regional, Michigan won with a 197.8 and Missouri advanced with a 197.425 while UCLA (197.4) and Iowa (197.075) were eliminated.
In the Auburn Regional, Florida won with a 198.775, the third-highest score in NCAA history, and Auburn scored a 197.775 to also advance while Kentucky (197.5) and Denver (197.225) were eliminated.
In the Norman Regional, Oklahoma won with a 198.25 and Minnesota advanced with a 197.725 while Cal (197.3) and Arkansas (196.675) were eliminated.
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