With a perfect 10 and a nation-best beam score, Utah teased its high-end potential against Stanford
The Red Rocks easily defeated the Cardinal Saturday afternoon, but it was Maile O’Keefe and the beam lineup that stole the show.
Each and every week, Utah competes with an eye on every other national title contender in the country, and on Saturday, the Red Rocks offered the college gymnastics world yet another reminder that they are one of them.
Powered by the highest scored event by any team in the country this year, No. 2 Utah handled No. 19 Stanford 197.675 to 196.000 at the Huntsman Center.
Team scores — Utah 197.675; Stanford 196.000
All-around — Grace McCallum (Utah); 39.625
Balance Beam — Maile O’Keefe (Utah); 10.0
Floor Exercise — Grace McCallum (Utah); 9.950
Uneven Bars — Cristal Isa (Utah); 9.950
Vault — Alexia Burch (Utah); 9.90
Utah scored a 49.725 on beam, counting only scores of 9.90 and above. It was the single best event by a team this season.
Junior Maile O’Keefe earned a perfect 10 on the apparatus, the second perfect routine of her Utah career, while Grace McCallum, Cristal Isa, Abby Paulson and Amelie Morgan all cracked the 9.90 barrier.
Utah was good on bars, with a 49.400, and did well on floor with a 49.425. McCallum won the all-around for the second time in her career with a 39.625, and Isa and Burch walked away event winners on bars and vault.
It was on beam, though, where Utah teased its national championship potential.
“You just can’t really describe it,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “They just have it. This is potentially the best balance beam team in the country and in the history of our program.”
A year ago in an empty gym in Seattle, O’Keefe was perfect. She performed a flawless beam routine last winter against the Huskies, earning the first perfect 10 of her career, but no one was there to see it.
That wasn’t the case Saturday. Her second perfect 10 came in front of a raucous pro-Utah crowd, and while the routine didn’t win the meet for Utah (barring a major catastrophe, the Red Rocks had the victory wrapped up after the bars rotation), it was the most memorable moment of the competition.
“To see Maile do that and then have the fan base do what they did, it was incredible,” Farden said. “You could feel the energy, the excitement, the passion and the pride.”
O’Keefe struggled to describe her feelings afterward, first crediting her teammates for the setting the table for her.
“I could perform without any stress,” she said.
When pressed, O’Keefe admitted that a perfect routine is almost indescribable.
“It felt amazing,” she said. “Last year I wasn’t able to hug anyone, so it was amazing to celebrate. ... It is interesting.
“Personally, it was a great routine, don’t get me wrong, but I know what feels normal for me and what doesn’t. It is crazy. I strive for perfect and I was perfect. It is a weird feeling that you can’t put into words.”
O’Keefe’s routine capped off an elite beam rotation, a bounce-back one at that, given how Utah struggled on beam the week prior against Arizona State.
The difference from one week to another?
“We all just took a step back,” Isa said. “Yes, we are very good at beam, but we needed to focus on what makes us good.”
“We came up to the beam with so much more confidence than last week,” McCallum added.
That confidence, according to Farden, can be directly traced back to assistant coach Carly Dockendorf, the architect of Utah’s transformation into an elite beam team.
“All the credit goes to Carly,” Farden said. “I might have recruited them, but it is her creativity, her connection with the athletes and her confidence. She instills confidence in them.”
If Utah is to truly contend for a national title this season, it’ll need to improve dramatically on vault.
For the second straight week, vault was subpar, and there was no hiding from it.
“A 49.1(25) is not a desirable score,” Farden said.
It wasn’t a case of being underscored. The Red Rocks struggled mightily with landings, and two of their most consistent vaulters — Lucy Stanhope and Jaedyn Rucker — had their worst vaults of the year.
Only Alexia Burch hit the 9.90 mark, and the best vault after hers was a 9.85 by McCallum.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Farden sad. “The one thing that I keep seeing is we had two 9.7s. As a program, we can’t have those anywhere, and we have to improve on that.”
Utah was missing Cammy Hall from the vault lineup — she underwent multiple tests during the week after fainting against ASU — and her absence was felt.
“Is it one person that sparks your vault lineup? It can be,” Farden said.
In addition to vault, floor left something to be desired, as only two Red Rocks — Hoffman and McCallum — scored a 9.90 or better.
“It was one of those days where we couldn’t sustain momentum,” Farden said. “We started well and then we took a step back, then had a good routine and then another step back.
“It wasn’t fatal, but the greedy part in me wanted more.”
That was encouraging
Arguably the most encouraging part of the meet was how Utah recovered from its poor showing on vault.
Immediately after the event, Utah had one of its best bar rotations of the season and followed that up with the elite showing on beam.
Momentum being what it is in gymnastics — “It is incredibly important,” Farden said — the Red Rocks showed championship mettle putting vault behind them.
“It is definitely hard, but Tom makes it easy,” O’Keefe said. “He gathers us in our huddle and helps us close the door.”
“It is really easy to not re-gather yourself (after struggling),” Isa added. “But our team does that really well.”
To a gymnast, the Red Rocks believe their greatest strength isn’t on a particular event, but in their ability to weather difficulties and then respond.
“Even when when we don’t have our best rotation, we have proven we can come back strong,” McCallum said.
It is why even after a 197.675 — a great team score — Utah maintains the belief that it can and will get better.
“We have more to give on vault and floor. Our score was good, but we can do more, be more,” O’Keefe said.
“Tom always says we have the best odds of getting the best score if all of us hit,” Isa added. “We haven’t done that yet. We still have more in us, and when we get to postseason, everyone is going to be blown away.”