Utah tops Oregon State to complete a perfect Pac-12 run

The fourth-ranked Red Rocks post a season-high 197.575 total.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s Maile O’Keefe, celebrating during a victory last season at the Jon M. Huntsman Center, had a huge performance in a win over Oregon State on Friday, March 5, 2021, scoring 9.9 on the vault and floor, 9.95 on the bars and a 9.975 on the balance beam for a 39.725 all-around score.

Utah’s gymnastics team capped off an undefeated Pac-12 season in a big way on Friday, beating Oregon State 197.575-196.425 in an effort that put an exclamation mark on the Utes’ efforts against conference foes.

Utah (9-1, 6-0) went into the meet with the goal of hitting 24 routines and replacing the 196.9 score it was counting in its National Qualifying Score.

The fourth-ranked Utes failed in their first goal, with Lucy Stanhope (9.275) having a major break on the bars and Jaylene Gilstrap having a break on the floor (9.65), but those errors were overshadowed by huge performances elsewhere.

Utah started out on the bars with a 49.225, then built throughout the night and ended with a season-high 49.6 on the beam.

Maile O’Keefe, who won the all-around with a 39.725, won the beam with a 9.975. Cristal Isa and Abby Paulson both had 9.95s and Alexia Burch had a 9.9.

Utah coach Tom Farden could find little to criticize, considering the Utes were competing away from home in a near empty arena.

“There was no energy in this arena, and the athletes brought it,” he said.

If there was anything to be critical of it was perhaps the opening 49.225 uneven bars score. Farden predicted the event would be Utah’s weakest this year and it remains so, even though the Utes have improved.

Big breaks such as the one the Utes had Friday won’t cut it in the postseason, when the slightest of missteps can cost teams a championship.

However, Farden believes the Utes have time to clean up the routines. Utah ends the season next week against Utah State and begins the postseason run with the Pac-12 Championships on March 20 at the Maverik Center.

“There are some areas on bars that we can improve and we can tighten up on vault just a little,” he said.

Knowing there is remaining work didn’t take away from the sense of accomplishment the Utes had Friday.

The Pac-12 has become extremely competitive in gymnastics with Arizona State and Cal joining UCLA as threats to the regular-season title. That Utah was able to go undefeated for the second year in a row in the conference with a young squad was an achievement not lost on Farden.

“They have grown up in front of our eyes,” he said. “To go on the road and in Gill Coliseum where there are no fans or noise at all, it showed us the intrinsic motivation they had to succeed and prepare themselves.”

In previous weeks, the Utes were pushed by Arizona State, Cal and UCLA but managed to escape with wins. If those victories taught the Utes they can perform well under pressure whey they need to, Friday’s win over Oregon State (2-5, 1-4) reminded the Utes they can keep the pressure on even when they are running away with a meet.

Farden called Utah’s balance beam lineup “a weapon,” for the Utes. Rarely have teams ever looked forward to their balance beam performances as much as the Utes have this season.

Utah has been incredibly steady on the 4-inch wide apparatus, ranking third with a 49.444 average. As Farden noted Friday, the Utes seem to be in postseason form. The challenge now for the Utes is to bring their other events to as close to the beam’s production as they can. If they do, the Utes will be in great position for the postseason.

Individual winners

Vault: Sydney Gonzales (OSU), Maile O’Keefe (Utah), Jaedyn Rucker (Utah) 9.9

Uneven bars: Maile O’Keefe (Utah) 9.95

Balance beam: Maile O’Keefe (Utah) 9.975

Floor: Kaitlyn Yanish (OSU) 9.95

All-around: Maile O’Keefe (Utah) 39.725