The most historic gymnastics program in history continued to navigate their way through the record book on Saturday night in Seattle as the University of Utah qualified for the national championship once more off a stunning all-around performance.
A dominant opening rotation on the floor found all competitors hit 9.900, highlighted by a pair of 9.950s from Grace McCallum and anchor Sidney Soloski, whose high score helped lead Utah to a .100 lead over second-place Alabama with a 49.600.
Mailie O’Keefe opened Utah’s second rotation as the team moved to vault, an event that has been the team’s most inconsistent of the season, with a 9.875, the lowest recorded score for the Red Rocks up to that point. Lucy Stanhope followed up with a 9.800 after a poorly stuck Yurchenku full and a half, opening the door for Alabama to gain some ground over Utah. As the Tide began to collect 9.850s on the bars, Utah’s vault scores began to improve with Thursday’s star, Alexia Burch turning in the rotation’s first 9.900, which was matched by Jayden Rucker in the fourth spot before McCallum brought in a much needed 9.900 to keep ‘Bama at bay and remaining a tenth ahead of their biggest competition.
A rough bars rotation was exactly what Alabama needed to pull ahead moving into the final routine of the evening, and unfortunately, Utah gave the team in crimson exactly what they were looking for. A bad landing out of an Arabian double front flip gave O’Keefe a 9.725, which was ultimately scratched but forced the Red Rocks to count Sage Thompson’s 9.850 as well as Amelie Morgan’s 9.875. The mistakes were enough for Utah to fall .050 behind the surging Tide as Tom Farden’s squad moved to beam.
Midway through Utah’s beam, Michigan State closed out their night with a 197.650, setting a high mark for Alabama and Utah to reach in order to advance to nationals. A rocky start that included a big fall from Alexia Burch, ending in a 9.175. Thankfully, Isa’s 9.975 kept Utah within striking distance before Kara Eaker’s clutch 10.000 made it so O’Keefe needed just a 9.500 in order to topple Michigan State and advance, but the junior star out of Las Vegas far surpassed the needed score and nailed her routine, marking back-to-back 10.000’s and giving Utah just enough to reclaim the lead with a 198.200, edging out Alabama’s 198.175.
Utah will now compete in their 46th straight national championship, continuing a streak that started all the way back to the first tournament in 1976. This year’s tournament will be held in Fort Worth, TX from April 14th-16th.