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Soloski’s strong floor routine clinches U.’s win over UCLA

Red Rocks edge the Bruins 197.225-197.1 in a Pac-12 gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Maile O’Keefe performs on the balance beam in PAC-12 gymnastics action Utah vs UCLA, at the Huntsman Center on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021.

Supposedly, wins and losses shouldn’t matter much in collegiate gymnastics, since teams advance to the postseason with scoring formulas.

But everything seemed to be on the line for the third-ranked Utes on Friday against rival UCLA in the Huntsman Center.

It’s a good thing they battled to a 197.225-197.1 win because now they can go into the final stretch of the regular season knowing they are in a good position both in the standings and mentally.

Friday’s win over the Bruins was far from perfect. As coach Tom Farden noted, almost every event had one or two routines that were subpar.

Any other year such a showing would have spelled a loss for sure against the Bruins. Not on Friday as the Utes had a fantastic floor effort when they needed it most.

The Utes were ahead of the Bruins just 147.775-147.675 going into the final rotation.

UCLA, feeling an upset was possible, came out on balance beam with some good scores, but the Utes were simply better on the floor, scoring 9.875 or higher in all their counting scores.

Anchor Sydney Soloski clinched the victory with a 9.925. Soloski has embraced her role as Utah’s final performer and her confidence was apparent. She admitted afterward she had done some math and figured she needed at least a 9.9 to win. It was actually less than that, but her effort was symbolic of the whole team’s as the Utes fought for every tenth they earned with big performances sprinkled throughout the lineups.

Afterward, it was evident the team and Farden weren’t thrilled with the mistakes.

“It definitely wasn’t our best performance,” Farden said.

But in the grand scheme of things, it was almost perfect. The Utes need these mental tests to get ready for the postseason and the win against their rival proved to themselves they can succeed even on an off night.

“It’s a confidence boost for the rest of the season,” Alexia Burch said. “The more we win, the more confidence we have going into the Pac-12s.”

The Utes have just three meets left until the Pac-12s on March 20. A loss would have sent them into the stretch shaken, now they can focus on the details knowing even an off night can be good.

“We can’t let the foot off the gas,” Soloski said. “We have to keep pushing.”

The nice thing is, there isn’t much left to do. The Utes have made some changes here and there, giving Burch the leadoff role on beam after Emilee LeBlanc struggled, but overall the Utes are down to honing their routines rather than making a lot of lineup swaps.

The main thing that needs to be done is clean up landings. The Utes are still having too many hops, particularly on vault, but Utah feels more reps will take care of those issues.

If they had lost Friday, they’d be focusing more on what needed to be overhauled. Now, with the win, the work seems much more manageable.

Individual winners

Vault: Alexia Burch (Utah) 9.975

Uneven bars: Nia Dennis (UCLA) 9.9

Balance beam: Margzetta Frazier (UCLA) 9.925

Floor: Chae Campbell (UCLA) 9.95

All-around: Chae Champbell (UCLA) 39.425

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