Utah’s gymnastics team lost more than a meet on Saturday, it lost one of its crucial gymnasts too.
Jillian Hoffman, who has been such a spark for the Utes this season in the leadoff role on vault and floor, is done for the season after suffering an injury in the 197.525-197.275 loss to No. 11 Cal in Berkeley, Calif.
Utah coach Tom Farden said the initial diagnosis was an Achilles tendon tear. The injury is devastating to Hoffman after she was limited in her freshman year due to injury and missed the 2021 season with a shoulder injury.
This season finally seemed to be her year as she has been one of the team’s most inspiring stories, regularly earning 9.8s or higher in the leadoff role.
Hoffman earned a 9.9 on the vault then suffered the injury in floor warmups.
Farden was clearly emotional after the meet when asked about Hoffman.
Vault: Jaedyn Rucker (Utah) 9.975
Uneven bars: Andi Li (Cal) 9.95
Balance beam: Maile O’Keefe (Utah) 9.925
Floor: Sydney Soloksi (Utah) 9.975
All-around: Andi Li (Cal) 39.65
“I am beside myself, to be honest with you,” he said. “You feel gutted for an athlete, especially this one because I’ve watched her perseverance and admire it.”
Interestingly, the Utes actually had their best event of the night on floor, where they scored a 49.525, paced by a 9.975 from Sydney Soloski and 9.9s from Jaedyn Rucker and Abby Paulson.
That effort, combined with just a 49.25 from the Bears on the beam, gave the Utes a 148.2-148.0 lead going into the last rotation.
The Utes couldn’t hold onto it, though, after issues on the balance beam. Utah scored only a 49.075 after Abby Paulson scored 9.575 and Cristal Isa had a rare mistake scoring 9.075.
The Bears finished out with a 49.475, including four scores of 9.9 or higher on the floor.
Milan Clausi, the daughter of Utah legend Missy Marlowe, didn’t compete for the second meet in the row because she wasn’t cleared due to illness.
Turns out the Bears didn’t need her, beating the Utes for the first time in Berkeley since 2018.
The loss is disappointing since it ends any hopes that the Utes might go undefeated, but the end result only highlighted a troubling realization, that the Utes aren’t quite as invincible as a team, even on the balance beam, as they had hoped to be.
The Utes also had to count a fall on the beam against UCLA and had trouble against Arizona State, when they scored a 49.025. Then, Farden said he thought the mistakes were an anomaly and wasn’t going to make a big deal about it.
But he acknowledged Saturday there is more of an issue than he first thought.
“I am not here to make excuses, but we didn’t do our job on the last event,” he said. “There is a human element to sports that bonds teammates, coaches and community and the team was upset, really upset and we had to make adjustments on the fly.”
So what does this loss mean for the Utes going forward? Utah is hoping to get freshman Kara Eaker back in the lineup soon as she continues to heal from an ankle injury suffered in the season opener. Her return will help the Utes with her high scoring capability, but Hoffman gave the Utes a noticeable spark too, an intangible that could be hard to replace.
The issues on the balance beam must be addressed too, which are even more concerning. The Utes didn’t use freshman Grace McCallum on the beam Saturday after she fell a week ago against UCLA. Paulson has struggled some on the event this year, scoring 9.425 in the season opener and 9.675 against Arizona State, but she has also been brilliant too, earning 9.9 against Oklahoma UCLA and 9.95 against Stanford, so getting her more consistent will be a priority.
Farden said the Utes will continue to work on the lineups. Right now it seems the Utes could stand a timeout to catch their breath and regroup too.
Utah is scheduled to host Oregon State at 6 p.m. Friday at the Huntsman Center.