As is tradition, the University of Utah gymnastics team saw themselves in contention for a national championship on a busy Saturday morning for Ute athletics.
Perhaps fortuitously, Utah opened the competition on the beam, where they rank first in the nation. As expected, the Red Rocks took full advantage and claimed an early lead with a 49.5125, headlined by a 9.950 from Kara Eaker. The top-notch performance opened up a .088 lead over second-place Auburn, and more than three tenths ahead of topped-ranked Oklahoma, who struggled mightily on the floor with two gymnasts stepping out of bounds and no single competitor breaking 9.900 for the Sooners in their first rotation.
As Utah moved to the floor, Abbey Paulson’s 9.900 set an early high mark for Utah, a score that wouldn’t be matched or surpassed until Grace McCallum’s 9.900 in the fourth position. Just as it appeared the Red Rocks found their groove on the floor, Mailie O’Keefe’s final pass was mired with missteps, including an unfortunate fall coming out of a double turn that led to a prolonged conference between the judges to determine a revised start value that ultimately dropped her score down to an 8.700. Thankfully, anchor floor specialist Sydney Soloski turned in a clutch final performance as a member of the Red Rocks gymnastics team, scoring a team-high 9.9125 that was capped off with an emphatic and emotional celebration with her teammates. The score officially wiped O’Keefe’s turn off the scorecard and extended Utah’s lead to .100 over the Florida Gators with a total of 98.9750, while Oklahoma rebounded from a season-low performance on the floor to turn in their best-ever vault rotation in the NCAA finals to pull within .125 of the lead.
O’Keefe rebounded to open the vault rotation with a stuck Yurchenko full, nabbing a 9.8125, but it was newly-crowned NCAA vault champion, Jaedyn Rucker, who stunned with a full and a half that nearly matched her championship performance from Thursday morning, notching a clutch 9.975. Unfortunately, Rucker was the lone bright spot in an otherwise poor rotation for the Red Rocks that ended with anchor Cammy Hall once again failing to hit her routine in her final showing with the team.
With the meet on the line, Utah entered the final rotation .375 off the lead that had been taken over by Oklahoma following Utah’s meltdown on the vault. Abbey Paulson and Grace McCallum opened the event with 9,900 and 9.9500 respectively, keeping Utah in the hunt. Sadly, Sage Thompson would be the final Utah gymnast to crack 9.900, scoring a 9.9125. Utah's final score of 197.750 beat out Auburn’s 197.350, guaranteeing no worse than third place and a spot on the podium, and setting a high mark for Oklahoma and Florida to best in order to claim the national title.
Ultimately, Florida’s Trinity Thomas’s perfect 10.000 on the floor and Oklahoma’s record-setting performance on the vault, combined with the lackluster third rotation for Utah proved to be the difference, as Utah ended their season in third place behind national champions Oklahoma and runner up Florida. The Sooners now claim five of the last eight national championships, a feat Utah has failed to reach since 1995 despite being the only team in NCAA history to qualify for every national championship over the sport’s 46-year history.