Utah’s Red Rocks advance to gymnastics’ Sweet 16 behind O’Keefe’s perfect 10

The Utes move on to the regional final with a trip to the NCAA Championships on the line.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jaedyn Rucker celebrates a 10 on the vault as Utah hosts California, NCAA gymnastics in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023.

Shortly after winning their third straight Pac-12 title, members of Utah’s gymnastics team spoke confidently that their best gymnastics was ahead of them.

They just might have been right.

The Utes roared into the NCAA regional finals with a convincing win Thursday, posting a 198.125 in the Los Angeles regional.

Washington finished second with a 196.775 to advance while Southern Utah (196.6) and Auburn (195.9) were eliminated.

The two remaining spots were to be decided in the evening session, as No. 4 UCLA, No. 13 Missouri, Stanford and Boise State competed.

Saturday’s finals are set for 6 p.m., MT and will be carried on ESPN+.

The top two teams from each regional advance to the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 13-15.

“In training, we say we don’t have to be perfect and just let our gymnastics happen and come to us and it was a good day today,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “I was most pleased with the rhythm of the meet and the way we gained confidence as the meet went along.”

Maile O’Keefe earned her fourth 10.0 of the year on the balance beam to lead the Utes to a 49.5 while Jaedyn Rucker, the defending NCAA vault champion, found perfection with her vault to pace the Utes’ 49.625.

That vault score was helped along with a 9.95 from Abby Brenner and 9.9s from Jaylene Gilstrap and Jillian Hoffman.

Rucker called Brenner, the fifth-year transfer from Michigan, the “perfect addition,” to the vault lineup this year.

The Utes matched the vault score on the bars where Cristal Isa and Sage Thompson scored 9.95s and Makenna Smith and Amelie Morgan had 9.925s.

Farden credited Morgan for her effort in the leadoff spot for sparking the bars score.

“She has the big meet experience and it shows,” he said.

The one area the Utes were a little less than they wanted was floor, where they scored a 49.375. Abby Paulson led with a 9.925 and Rucker and Gilstrap had 9.9s, but the scores dropped off to 9.875 from O’Keefe and 9.775 from Brenner to finish the rotation.

But that slight dip wasn’t enough to bother the Utes when the meet was over with the Utes looking ahead to Saturday with eagerness. The Utes are the only team to qualify for all of the national championships, a string of success that they want to maintain. They don’t believe they will be flat for Saturday’s finals after Thursday’s big effort.

“It’s easy to stay motivated at this point,” Rucker said. “All the hard work in the regular season was to get to this point so it isn’t hard to get amped up again, it’s what we’ve worked for.”

How to watch

Los Angeles Regionals Final

Saturday, 6 p.m. MT