The Red Rocks dynamic season inched closer to glory Saturday night in the second round of regional competition.
Sophomore Abby Paulson’s career-high 9.850 on the bars kicked off the evening, setting the tone early for a Red Rocks program that had the luxury of a home crowd inside the Maverik Center of West Valley City. As the first event progressed, the team demonstrated flawless landings. Senior Emilie LeBlanc finally broke the 9.900 barrier in the fourth position before sophomore Maile O’Keefe took over with an impressive 9.950 routine that showcased the best handstands on Utah’s talented roster.
Heading to the beam, Utah was tied for first with LSU at 49.475, who opened the event on the floor. Despite a big balance check midway through her routine, senior Alexia Burch opened the rotation with a respectable 9.900. Freshman Lucy Stanhope committed Utah’s first non-stuck landing, earning a 9.850 that would have surpassed Burch’s high mark without the late falter. Junior Cristal Isa’s routine went by without so much as a wiggle, earning a crucial 9.950, just as LSU’s Haleigh Bryant landed the evening’s first 10.000 on the vault, a mark matched by Pauslon. O’Keefe matched the team-high 9..950 despite no noticeable deductions.
With a .125 lead over the second-place LSU Tigers, the Red Rocks hit the floor in prime position to lock up their first-place standing after hitting every routine in the third rotation, highlighted by O’Keefe, whose 9.950 was the third straight such score of the evening. Returning senior Sydney Soloski, who, much to the home crowd’s dismay, matched O’Keefe’s high of 9.950 in the anchor position.
After three dominating rotations, Utah led all teams by a minimum of .450, with Kentucky moving past LSU into the second spot; however, Isa failed to hit her routine, resulting in a 9.575, forcing the Red Rocks to hit the remainder of their routines to wipe out the blemish. Junior Cammy Hall salvaged a 9.825, hindered by a slightly off-balanced landing. O’Keefe kept the scoring moving in the right direction with a hard-fought 9.850. Poor landings became a trend, with Stanhope collecting a 9.725 after her knees buckled on her dismount. Sophomore Jaedyn Rucker salvaged the rotation with an electrifying Yurchenko full with a powerful landing, earning a team-high 9.950.
Despite a lackluster run on the vault, Utah pulled out an impressive 197.925 to secure the top spot and advance to the national championship in Fort Worth, Texas, on April 16th, where all-arounder Maile O’Keefe will look to lead Utah to a possible championship run.