Utah gymnastics team dominates NCAA regional in Los Angeles

Utes advance to their 47th consecutive national championship; Michigan falls short of finals

(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. Rucker repeated the feat as Utah won the NCAA regional meet in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Utah’s gymnastics team couldn’t have asked for a better way to head into the NCAA Championships than the Utes did Saturday as they won the Los Angeles regional in dominating fashion.

The Utes posted a 198.05 to win the competition while UCLA also advanced with a 197.925. Missouri (197.6) and Washington (195.65) were eliminated.

Utah advanced to its 47th consecutive national championship. The Red Rocks, who won their 34th regional title, are the only team to have appeared in every national championship.

Also advancing to the NCAAs, April 13-15 in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday were Oklahoma (198.05) and Kentucky (197.85) out of the Norman regional while Ohio State (197.75) and Alabama (197.65) were eliminated.

The other two regionals are Sunday with the Pittsburgh regional featuring Florida, Cal, Arizona State and Michigan State, and the Denver regional featuring LSU, Oregon State, Michigan and Denver.

The Utes entered the regionals confident they could advance, but perhaps no one but the gymnasts themselves knew just what they could do.

Coupled with the 198.125 the Utes posted in Thursday’s round, Utah’s back-to-back performances have been unmatched, sending the Utes into the nationals with all the momentum they could ask for.

The Utes didn’t bother downplaying their excitement about the NCAAs.

“We will leave it up to your imagination but it’s pretty freaking cool,” senior Cristal Isa said. “We’ve had a good focus on the postseason and we are catching our stride. The regular season was amazing but not reflective of what we can do.”

The Utes opened Saturday’s competition with a fantastic vault effort, posting a 49.575 on the vault while UCLA and Missouri had 49.4s and Washington had 49.15.

Jaedyn Rucker had her second 10.0 vault of the regional competition, Maile O’Keefe had a 9.925 and Abby Brenner and Jillian Hoffman had 9.9s.

The Utes did have a dip on bars with Cristal Isa’s 9.9 being the high mark as the Utes posted a 49.35.

The score was enough to keep the Utes in the lead, although they had to share it with an unlikely competitor, Missouri.

UCLA, the home favorite, was in third with a 98.725 and Washington was in fourth with 98.3.

The Utes posted a 49.525 on the beam, led by 9.95s from O’Keefe and Kara Eaker, to have the lead all to themselves after three rotations with 148.45. UCLA moved from third to second with the third rotation (148.425), while Missouri was third (148.375) and Washington was fourth (147.2).

A 49.6 on the floor, led by a career-high 9.95 from Makenna Smith, closed out the meet for the Utes.

Utah coach Tom Farden has credited his close-knit senior class for bringing the team together this year and he noted that bond is playing a big part now for the team.

“This team has just an excellent chemistry,” he said. “When they are on the floor together, they show up and compete and that is pretty cool to see.”

Even competing in UCLA’s arena didn’t bother the Utes, who used the energy to their benefit.

“Any cheering is good cheering,” senior Abby Brenner said.

Going forward, don’t be surprised if the Utes make their own noise.

Every year now it seems there is an old guard of the gymnastics world that fails to make it to the NCAA Championships.

On Sunday, it was Michigan’s turn to be the one left behind for the finals.

The third-ranked Wolverines lost a tiebreaker to sixth-ranked LSU when both teams finished the Denver regional with a 197.75 behind winner Denver (197.875).

The tiebreaker went to counting all six scores, where LSU finished with a 237.1 and Michigan, which had two falls, totaled 235.725.

Oregon State was fourth in the regional with a 197.65.

Michigan won the national title in 2021.

The dramatic finish sends Denver and LSU to the NCAA finals April 13-15 along with No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Utah, No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 9 Kentucky, No. 7 Cal and No. 2 Florida.

Cal won the Pittsburgh regional with a 198.075 and No. 2 Florida was second with a 197.8 to advance to nationals. Michigan State (197.65) and Arizona State (197.475) were eliminated.