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Red Rocks Claim First PAC-12 Title Since 2017

Utah’s winning tradition continued Saturday night in West Valley, as the Red Rocks completed their conference slate with a dominating victory over the PAC-12’s best in the conference championship.

Sophomore Abby Paulson’s 9.275 opened the evening for the Red Rocks with an early fall on the bars, however freshman Alain Sabado was able to regain some positive momentum on her routine, netting a 9.775 on a routine that was hampered by some slightly sloppy handstands. Senior Emilie LeBlanc really opened up the scoring with a high-flying routine that earned a crucial 9.875 as Cal and Arizona State began to jockey for the top spot early. Sophomore all-arounder Maile O’Keefe ultimately salvaged the first rotation for Utah with her perfectly executed double Arabian dismount helping to secure a 9.950, a score that was matched by junior anchor Cristal Isa to officially erase Paulson’s blemish from the scoring sheet.

After one rotation, UCLA had a .200 lead over the second place Red Rocks, however the Bruins had the benefit of starting the event on the floor, by far their strongest event in 2021.

Moving to the beam, senior Alexia Burch set the tone early, scoring a well-earned 9.900, with her biggest deduction coming off a minor balance check midway through her routine. Isa followed up her dominating performance on the bars with a matching 9.950 in the second rotation, putting her in prime position to lead the all-around competition. Paulson, coming off the abysmal run on the bars found redemption by matching Isa’s 9.950. Junior Adrienne Randall and O’Keefe closed out the rotation with a 9.925 and a(nother) 9.950 respectively, giving the Red Rocks a 49.675 on the beam, with no counted score falling below a 9.900 after freshman Lucy Stanhope’s 9.825 was dropped. The stellar performance in the second rotation gave Utah a 99.000 and a .050 lead over UCLA, and a .350 advantage over the fifth ranked Cal Bears.

On to the floor, Isa took the lead off spot with a 9.900, adding to her career night, followed by a 9.925 by Paulson, in her final event of the evening. Stanhope continued Utah’s streak of 9.900+ scores, giving Utah their seventh straight, earning a 9.900 as the Red Rocks began to pull away from UCLA and Cal. Sophomore Jaedyn Rucker’s routine kept the fire burning for the surging Red Rocks with a 9.950, matched by O’Keefe for her third straight 9.950 of the night, giving her a .050 advantage over Isa. Senior ancho Sydney Soloski finished the rotation with Utah’s third straight 9.950, giving the regular season champs a second straight 49.675, a season-high on the floor.

In the final rotation, Isa’s 9.850 broke Utah’s streak of 9.900+ scores despite a strong turn on the vault. O’Keefe’s routine matched Isa, giving the all-arounder a hard fought 39.700, barely edging Isa’s equally impressive 39.650. With Stanhope’s 9.725 in the third spot, it became clear that the roster was running low on gas with sub-par dismounts becoming a trend as the red hot Red Rocks began to cool down, a fact highlighted by Burch’s 9.300 that resulted in the senior barely getting off the apparatus before falling on her backside. The litany of mistakes, coupled with a possible injury resulted in junior Cammy Hall being pulled from the anchor position and replaced with Sobado, whose 9.800 salvaged the event, giving Utah a 49.050 in the vault, and a 197.725 total.

Despite being bookended by struggles, Utah was able to comfortably put away the competition to secure their first PAC-12 gymnastics title since 2017, with O’Keefe taking all-around honors as well as individual titles on bars, beam and floor.

Utah now awaits seeding in the regional tournament, where they will be placed in either Salt Lake City, Athens, Georgia, Tuscaloosa, Alabama or Morgantown, West Virginia before hitting the floor at Nationals on April 17th.