Utah gymnasts fall to No. 7 LSU, turn focus to Pac-12 championships

The Utes will host next week’s competition at the Maverik Center in West Valley City

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s Sage Thompson competes on the bars during their gymnastics meet with Stanford at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022.

Utah’s gymnastics team knew it would need all its talent, and maybe a little luck, to beat LSU in Baton Rouge on Senior Night.

The Utes had neither as they lost to the seventh-ranked Tigers 198.125-197.875.

The Utes weren’t at full strength with standout Maile O’Keefe sitting out the meet due to what coach Tom Farden described as a “chest virus.”

O’Keefe has been one of Utah’s strongest gymnasts all year and had a huge meet against Minnesota a week ago scoring 10.0s on the bars and beam and 9.95 on the floor.

O’Keefe was slated to compete in the all-around but the decision to sideline her was made on the bus to the arena, Farden said. Another gymnast, Adrienne Randall, didn’t make the trip due to what Farden said was the flu. She has been a regular contributor on the balance beam.

Individual results

Vault: Haleigh Bryant (LSU) 10.0

Uneven bars: Grace McCallum (Utah) and Alyona Shchennikova (LSU) 9.925

Balance beam: Abby Paulson (Utah) and Cristal Isa (Utah) 9.975

Floor: Sarah Edwards (LSU) 9.975

All-around: Haleigh Bryant (LSU) 39.7

Even without them the Utes still managed one of their highest scores of the year, which tempered the bite of a loss.

“Right off the bat we were mixing up the lineups and we were pleased with a lot of the athletes,” Farden said.

The Utes opened with a 49.4 on the bars, led by a 9.925 from Grace McCallum, then posted the same score on vault where McCallum delivered another team-high 9.925.

The Utes didn’t have anyone else break the 9.9 mark on the vault, leaving Utah trailing LSU 98.95-98.8 at the halfway mark.

For the Utes to make up ground they needed LSU to have some trouble on the balance beam. That didn’t happen with the Tigers scoring 49.5.

Utah posted another 49.4, paced by Sydney Soloski’s 9.95, but again the Utes didn’t have any other gymnasts breaking the 9.9 mark.

The best event for the Utes was the balance beam. Even competing in LSU’s loud arena and trailing the Tigers, the Utes didn’t look like a team that was intimidated as they scored a 49.675.

Abby Paulson and Cristal Isa both scored 9.975s and Amelie Morgan had a 9.925.

Freshman Kara Eaker made her only appearance of the night on the balance beam where she scored 9.875.

“To compete beam in a hostile environment and in a tight meet, we couldn’t have asked for more,” Farden said.

Farden said he was pleased with the gymnasts who had to fill in for O’Keefe in the last minute, particularly with Lucy Stanhope scoring a 9.875 on floor and Alexia Burch scoring a 9.9 on beam.

The Utes don’t have much time to dwell on the loss as they compete in the Pac-12 Championships, March 19 at the Maverik Center.

Utah, which shared the conference title with Cal, Oregon State and Arizona State with 5-2 records, is the top seed for the Pac-12 based on its national qualifying score.