Utah gymnast Maile O’Keefe will stay in Salt Lake next season. Here’s why.

O’Keefe has spent five years with the program as a student-athlete.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah’s Maile O’Keefe performs on the beam as Utah hosts Stanford, NCAA gymnastics at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2024.

The conversations started around Christmas break.

Utah Red Rocks senior Maile O’Keefe was trying to figure out what she would do when it came time to leave the program. Coach Carly Dockendorf suggested maybe she could return as a student coach.

It didn’t long for O’Keefe to say yes. But the decision was under wraps until Senior Night, which was held Friday at the Huntsman Center.

“I’ve actually relied a lot on Maile to make me a better coach,” Dockendorf said.

O’Keefe showed up on the video board Friday and gave a teary-eyed message to Red Rocks fans, thanking them for “the best five years” of her life thus far. It was one of four video tributes senior gymnasts walking for Senior Night shown during the final meet of the regular season, a tri-meet against Stanford and Utah State.

But O’Keefe had an extra message for fans: She’s not done with the Red Rocks just yet.

That’s when she announced she would return to the program next year as the student coach. The announcement prompted loud cheers inside the Huntsman Center.

O’Keefe spent five seasons with the Red Rocks, becoming one of the most decorated in program history. She’s earned 14 perfect 10.0s, tied with former Red Rock Theresa Kulikowski for the most in program history. Thirteen of those perfect scores are on beam.

“I’m just looking forward to having her continue to work alongside with me and to help our beamers for next year,” Dockendorf said. “She’s a brilliant coach. She has an excellent mind for that event and a lot of passion for it. [I] feel so blessed that she’s going to come back and be with us again.”