Kara Eaker’s last showing in the Rio Tinto Best of Utah meet ended in miserable fashion when she was carried off the floor after suffering a severe ankle injury in the 2022 opener.
Suffice it to say she preferred Saturday’s experience to that previous one.
Eaker scored a 10.0 on the balance beam to lead the Utes to a 197.75 in a win in the Best of Utah meet Friday in the Maverik Center. Southern Utah was second with a 196.175, Utah State was third with 195.8 and BYU was fourth with 195.05.
Eaker competed just eight routines for the Utes last year because of the ankle injury, but asserted herself as a premier beam contributor in the final weeks when she had healed enough to compete, scoring 9.875 or better in her seven beam routines, including a 10.0 in the NCAA Regional final.
Now she and the Utes are eager to see what this season has in store for her.
“It feels really good knowing that I can go up there and give my all for the team,” she said. “I’ve worked so hard to get to this point.”
Eaker’s debut was one of the most anticipated storylines of last year so her injury was a huge disappointment for the Utes. Now it looks like they will get to see what her full potential is.
“I’m really proud of her,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “We see 10s in practice all the time and tonight we got to see one with 6,000 of our friends, which is even cooler.”
BEST OF UTAH
Vault: Jaedyn Rucker (Utah) 9.925
Uneven bars: Grace McCallum (Utah) 9.975
Balance beam: Kara Eaker (Utah) 10.0
Floor: Grace McCallum (Utah) and Karley McClain (SUU) 9.925
All-around: Grace McCallum (Utah) 39.675
In addition to Eaker’s perfect score, Maile O’Keefe earned a 9.95, Grace McCallum earned 9.925 and Cristal Isa and Abby Paulson earned 9.9s to give the Utes a 49.675 as a team.
“That was probably the best balance beam,” Farden said. “I know I keep saying that every year, but that was pretty incredible. It was jaw-dropping.”
McCallum won the all-around with a 39.675, scoring 9.85 on the vault, 9.975 on the bars and 9.925 on the floor in addition to her beam effort.
In a way, McCallum might deserve some credit for setting up Utah’s beam effort. Prior to her routine on bars, the Utes seemed to be slipping into a lull with a couple 9.8s.
She gave the Utes a lift with a routine that was close to perfection too.
“There are always little things to improve on but I was a little sad,” McCallum said of the missed 10.0. “I am proud of myself and grateful for the score, but it was oh so close.”
The gymnastics in the Maverik Center continues Saturday with the Wasatch Classic. Sixth-ranked UCLA competes against No. 19 Minnesota, No. 25 Washington and Boise State at 3 p.m., and third-ranked Cal competes against No. 16 Iowa, No. 20 Pittsburgh and Oregon State at 8 p.m.
3 p.m.: No. 6 UCLA, No. 19 Minnesota, No. 25 Washington and Boise St.
8 p.m.: No. 3 California, No. 16 Iowa, No. 20 Pittsburgh, Oregon State
All of the teams, including the Utes, came to the Maverik Center wanting to get a feel for the podium setting to help them prepare for the postseason setups.
The Utes, who compete at top-ranked Oklahoma on Jan. 22, have to like how they responded.
“We were more crisp in areas and it showed,” Farden said. “I was pleased with that. I feel like this team is very good, but we still aren’t there yet. We have more to grow.”
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