Utah’s streak of consecutive national championship appearances was on the line early on Thursday night in Seatlle, WA. The evening opened with a blow after Abbey Paulson suffered an injury during warm-ups, forcing her out of the line-up, and the drama only intensified from there.
Utah opened on the floor where Jaylene Gilstrap and Adrienne Randall turned in a pair of 9.800s at the top of the rotation. Jaedyn Rucker would get the momentum rolling with a well-executed 9.900, which was again matched by former Olympian, Grace McCallum who turned in a flawless final pass. Mailie O’Keefe’s 9.900 looked to be the icing before the cherry that is anchor Sydney Soloski, but a rare miscue from the fifth-year senior stalwart resulted in a 9.775 after she stepped out of bounds on her first pass.
Moving to the vault in the second rotation, Utah faced a litany of mistakes despite a strong start with O’Keefe and Lucy Stanhope opening up with matching 9.900’s, and despite a 9.950 from Alexia Burch in the fourth spot (a career high), Rucker, McCallum, and Hall all overextended their dismounts, failing to stick their landings and earning sub 9.850 scores in the process.
Through the midway point, session favorites Utah and Oregon State found themselves at the bottom of the standings, but a strong beam rotation, highlighted by another 9.950 from Alexia Burch that proved to be the clutch performance Utah needed to take a slim lead, surpassing Illinois by .025, despite a nasty fall from McCallum in the second spot that led to a tragic 9.400 that had the potential to derail Utah’s season.
With the meet essentially up for grabs, the number one beam team in the nation flexed on the competition, where Burch once again scored a 9.950, completing one of the best events of her career after Amalie Morgan and Randall opened the final rotation with dual 9.900s. Isa and Kara Eaker, and O’Keefe would follow Burch’s valiant efforts as the trio would go on to achieve high marks of 9.950, meaning Utah closed their top event with four straight 9.950s while dropping a 9.900 as the low score, earning an astonishing cumulative score of 49.700 to cushion their lead and secure the top spot with a 197.800.
Stanford will join Utah on Saturday’s final round of regional competition where the PAC-12’s representatives will face Alabama and Michigan State. Coverage will again be available on ESPN+ starting at 7:00 PM MT.