The fourth-ranked University of Utah Red Rocks hit West Valley City on Friday night to showcase their prowess against their in-state rivals, Utah State, BYU, and Southern Utah in the third annual Best of Utah meet.
A trio of freshmen opened the evening as Amelie Morgan, Grace McCallum, and Kara Eaker turned in solid routines, all resulting in 9.875’s. Senior Cristal Isa, whose bar routine is one of the only on the roster to feature consecutive back handsprings, broke out with the event’s high score for the Red Rocks with a 9.900. Abby Paulson was a bit wobbly from the start with her chest and shoulders falling forward during the early parts of her routine before eventually slipping awkwardly, earning a 9.425, while junior anchor Maile O’Keefe ended the first rotation with a 9.850, a disappointment considering she tallied a 9.950 or better eight times last season on the beam.
Utah’s second rotation saw the team move to the floor, where Paulson made up for her mistakes on the beam by turning in a near-flawless 9.875, while sophomore Lucy Stanhope had an unfortunate step out of bounds during her second aerial pass that resulted in 9.625. As has been the case for the Red Rocks in recent years, the slight extra bounce in the floor that comes in podium meets proved to be a factor, as even Utah’s floor leader, senior Sydney Soloski failed to break above Paulson’s 9.875. Despite minuscule deductions throughout the second rotation, the Red Rocks had amassed nearly a full point lead over the second-place Aggies (97.600) with a score of 98.550 while solidly pulling ahead of Southern Utah (97.475) and BYU (97.350).
During warm-ups for the vault, Eaker appeared to hit her head and looked woozy as head coach Tom Farden collected her off the floor and carried her to the locker room. She was later confirmed to be a scratch, and would not compete for the remainder of the meet. Ultimately, the Red Rocks would again assert their dominance in the event, as junior Jaedyn Rucker and freshman and Olympic silver medalist Grace McCallum both hit 9.900, while junior Jillian Hoffman’s 9.800 was the cut score. Hoffman made her Red Rocks debut on the vault after missing all of the prior season with a shoulder injury and competing just four times, all on the floor, during her freshman campaign.
Freshman Sage Thompson saw her first action with the Red Rocks with a 9.800 on the bars routine that was defined by low handstands and an off-kilter dismount that, with small corrections, could lead to big scores for Utah as the season progresses. Isa and O’Keefe would lead the event with matching 9.875’s, with O’Keefe’s high-flying blind landing ending in a rough dismount that will score higher in later meets with more control coming out of her dismount, but a 9.325 from McCallum was the story in the final rotation. While attempting to transition from the lower bar to the upper bar the freshman lost momentum and dropped from the apparatus, ultimately costing her all-around honors as Utah’s lone competitor after Eaker’s untimely exit.
Despite some hiccups, Utah prevailed by notching a 197.100, blowing past USU’s 195.875, the third-place Cougars who were -1.875 behind the lead, and Southern Utah’s 195.00. The Red Rocks will return to the Huntsman center on January 14th to take on Oklahoma, who landed at #3 in preseason rankings, just one spot ahead of Utah. Tickets are still available, and fans in attendance will be required to adhere to Salt Lake County’s mask mandates.