Kara Eaker is a big reason why Utah’s gymnasts are the nation’s best on the beam

After missing nearly a full year with an injury, the Utes sophomore has started this season strong.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s Kara Eaker competes on the beam at the Best of Utah NCAA Gymnastics Meet at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

Early season is when collegiate gymnasts are making adjustments to their routines, polishing moves and smoothing out transitions or other trouble spots.

So what was Kara Eaker doing? Oh, only reaching perfection on the balance beam.

After being sidelined for almost a year, the Utah sophomore doesn’t want to waste any time and is starting the 2023 season on a tear on the beam.

Eaker opened the season with a 9.9 on the beam against LSU, earned a 10.0 in the Best of Utah Meet then followed that effort with a 9.9 at Oklahoma.

Her presence has helped the Utes, who host Washington at 1 p.m. Saturday, maintain the top spot in the national beam rankings with a 49.517 average.

No. 4 Utah vs. No. 25 Washington

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Huntsman Center

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 700

Eaker is ranked second nationally averaging 9.933 while Maile O’Keefe is No. 1 averaging 9.958.

“What she brings to the team is the Red Rock faithful get to watch some of the best beam workers in the world,” Utah coach Tom Farden said of Eaker’s presence in the lineup. “Gymnastics comes easy for her and she is a natural on the beam. She has a great feel for the beam and is very consistent. We see 10s all the time in practice.”

Eaker is pleased with the start of her season, particularly after her experience last year when she hurt her ankle and was sidelined until March.

She tried to be involved with her teammates as much as possible, but not being able to compete had its frustrations. This year she is savoring her opportunities.

“I wanted to start off this year strong and keep the progress I made last year,” she said. “I had the motivation and drive to keep me pushing.”

Eaker also benefited from a more normal offseason with the Utes. She didn’t have much of a break before joining the Utes following the Tokyo Olympics. This past summer she got some downtime and did some traveling and exploring Utah.

“I had to adjust to having limited practices but I was able to get some other hobbies outside of Utah and travel,” she said. “It was a fun experience.”

For now, Eaker is best known for her balance beam work. However, both she and Farden hope to see her in other lineups.

She debuted her floor routine at Oklahoma, scoring only 9.675 after some miscues, but Farden and Eaker both were encouraged.

“It’s the step in the right direction,” Eaker said. “I was playing around with some things I hadn’t done before so it was fun.”

Eaker has an uneven bars routine ready to go as well. Farden isn’t sure when it will debut, but since he loves to switch around lineups, it’s a good bet it won’t be long before she gets a chance.”

“She is working really hard and we know the sky is the limit with her,” Farden said. “She didn’t have a normal freshman year. Now it’s just a matter of getting her volume and reps and she is feeling more confident.”

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