Utah gymnasts edge Cal with clutch beam performance

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Abby Paulson on the beam as the University of Utah hosts Arizona State, NCAA gymnastics in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020.

Utah’s third-ranked gymnastics team thought it had a good balance beam team. Now the Utes know they have a great one.

The Utes flirted with a school record on the balance beam and handed the 12th-ranked Cal Bears a rare loss at home, taking a 197.55-197.325 win. The Bears entered the Pac-12 meet having won 17 of their last 19 home meets.

The teams went into the final rotation tied at 147.925. The stats gave Utah a bit of an advantage at that point considering the Utes are ranked fourth on beam with a 49.275 while Cal is ranked just 26th on floor with a 48.93 average.

But no one could have predicted what happened next, with the Utes posting a 49.625 effort on the balance beam as Maile O’Keefe, Abby Paulson and Adrienne Randall all scored 9.95s. Cristal Isa added a 9.9 and both Alexia Burch and Emilie LeBlanc had 9.875s. The Utes only needed to count one of those 9.875s as they nearly matched the team record of 49.65 they earned in 1995 against BYU.

That’s a piece of history that might be hard for the young Utes to grasp, but they did seem to understand the significance of the moment. Freshman Maile O’Keefe said afterward that the Utes “own the beam.”

She added: “It was an amazing rotation for us. For all of us to hit like that, I am so proud of us.”

Utah coach Tom Farden was pleased with the way the team responded, especially since it was no secret the teams were in a showdown going into the final rotation.

“For a young team to show that kind of grit and resilience and win this meet on the beam speaks volumes,” he said. “It was a tough environment and for us to be a premier team like that was impressive.”

Utah’s overall score was a season high as the Utes continued to improve on several events. Utah opened with a 49.425 on the bars to take the early lead, led by Kim Tessen’s 9.975 and 9.875s from Isa and Reinstadtler.

But the Utes lost ground on the vault, scoring just 49.075, while Cal had a 49.375 on the bars to take a 98.575-98.5 lead at the halfway point.

Utah posted a 49.425 on floor, led by a 9.925 from Sydney Soloski and a 9.9 from O’Keefe, while Cal earned a 49.35 on the beam to send the teams into the final rotation tied, setting the stage for the Utes’ big finale.

“The kids dug deep with that beam performance,” Farden said.

Farden tweaked the beam lineup with Randall going ahead of Paulson.

“We thought that might set her up and it did,” he said of the 9.95s. “That was the intention.”

Utah returns home to host Oregon State on Feb. 15 at 1 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.