Through the opening five weeks of the season, Utah’s gymnastics team was considered one of the best in the country, and rightfully so.

The Red Rocks beat Oklahoma head-to-head, were ranked No. 2 or No. 3 every week and, outside of Michigan, were the most consistently great team in the NCAA.

Results


Team scores — Utah 198.000; Oregon State 197.150


Event winners


All-around — Jade Carey (Oregon State); 39.700


Balance beam — Cristal Isa (Utah); 10.0


Floor exercise — Jade Carey (Oregon State), Abby Paulson (Utah), Grace McCallum (Utah), Sydney Soloski (Utah); 9.925


Uneven bars — Jade Carey (Oregon State), Grace McCallum (Utah); 9.95


Vault — Jade Carey (Oregon State); 9.975

After a loss at No. 9 Cal last weekend, Utah was still ranked No. 4 overall but the shine had worn off just a bit.

Slotted behind No. 1 Michigan, No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Oklahoma in the national rankings, Utah had seemingly dropped down a tier. Not far, but more into a grouping of teams like No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Minnesota and No. 7 Auburn than into that with the Wolverines, Gators and Sooners.

Why? Michigan, Florida and Oklahoma had all shown the ability to score big, i.e. a 198 or better.

Utah, meanwhile, had a 197.775 as its high score. A great score, but it wasn’t a 198.

Friday night against No. 13 Oregon State, that changed.

Powered by excellent balance beam, floor exercise and uneven bars rotations, plus a perfect 10 by senior Cristal Isa, Utah earned its first 198 of the season and soundly defeated the Beavers, 198.000 to 197.150.

“We are all really proud of what we did,” Isa said. “It is closer to what we can do. We still didn’t hit 24 of 24 routines so we still have a little work to do, but it is a great start for where we want to go.”

Utah reached the 198 barrier for the first time since 2020, and while it wasn’t a perfect meet by any means, for arguably the first time all season the Red Rocks really clicked.

“We are still in February and I am still trying to debut some stuff, but as a coach, you watch other elite teams and they are already clicking,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said.

“We see 9.9 after 9.9 after 9.9 in practice. For that to finally transpire, that is what we are looking for. We were really pleased.”

Oregon State star Jade Carey won the all-around competition, but Isa, Abby Paulson, Grace McCallum and Sydney Soloski all walked away with event wins for the Red Rocks.

As a team, Utah scored just below season highs on beam (49.725), floor (49.550) and bars (49.500), while recording 13 scores of 9.90 or better.

Defining moment

No moment was more notable in the meet than Isa’s beam routine. Throughout her career — following an injury-marred freshman season — Isa has been one of Utah’s most consistent gymnasts. Never too high, never too low, at least during competition.

Against Cal, however, Isa made a truly uncharacteristic mistake and fell off the beam, one of many miscues in Utah’s loss.

Less than a week later, Isa was able to turn in the best performance of her collegiate career.

“Look,” Farden said. “I was devastated for her last week. That was extremely uncharacteristic. ... She was in a different headspace tonight and had full confidence that she was going to knock one out of the park.”

For her part, Isa believes she got a little too full of herself before the meet against Cal. Her fall humbled her, and sometimes that is what is needed.

“I knew exactly what I did (wrong) last week and addressed it this week. I was way too overconfident. Sometimes you need to be a little humble, and it worked out for the best tonight.

“It was kind of surprising, especially after what happened last week. It was almost a point difference. I was just hoping to hit. I wasn’t focused on a 10 at all, though it has crossed my mind the past few weeks. Staying ground on the beam was where it is at.”

Needs work

There was an obvious weakness for Utah in a meet that was chocked full of strengths. While the bars, beam and floor lineups had near season-best performances, the vault lineup struggled, at least by comparison.

Utah scored a 49.225 on vault, counting a 9.775, a 9.800 and two 9.850s while also suffering a fall that scored a 9.375.

“Obviously we had a couple hiccups on vault, so that is one area for improvement,” junior Maile O’Keefe said.

The vault lineup was in major flux, to be fair. Sage Thompson made her Utah debut on the event, leading off the rotation in place of the injured Jillian Hoffman.

Alani Sabado made her season debut later in the rotation as a last minute replacement Alexia Burch.

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Aside from a fall by Jaedyn Rucker, Utah didn’t have glaring mistakes, but there were enough miscues to limit the team’s overall score.

“Sage started us off with a really nice vault,” Farden said. “It was super clean but she had a step. She had been working a (Yurchenko) 1.5 diligently until last week when Jill went down. We backed off that and went back to the (Yurchenko) Full because we like the look of her vault, the cleanliness.

“Jaedyn went down and Lex didn’t have quite the vault we wanted in warmup, so I made the decision to make a change. Alani stepped in and did a nice 9.8 vault.”

Sabado is no stranger to last-minute vaults. At the Pac-12 championships last season, Farden unexpectedly subbed her in for Cammy Hall in an attempt to ensure Utah walked away with the conference title.

The move worked out then, and the move to Sabado against Oregon State did as well, giving Utah a solid vault at a time the team needed it.

“Tonight we needed her, and she was ready,” Farden said.

That’s encouraging

There was no shortage of positive takeaways for Utah. In a meet like the one the Red Rocks had, that was to be expected.

Utah bounced back on balance beam, once again showing the type of potential that will make the team a national title threat come the postseason.

“I am extremely proud,” Isa said. “I know we’ve hit other times this season on beam, but everyone was in a healthy headspace and just wanted to do their best rather than not wanting to mess up.”

Adrienne Randall tweaked her beam routine, and it paid off with her best outing of the season.

Paulson performed arguably her best beam routine of the year, too, and for the second week in a row, she scored a 9.90 or better leading off on floor.

Speaking of leadoff, once again Utah benefited from strong routines from Amelie Morgan, even if it she didn’t score her now usual 9.90-plus.

Lucy Stanhope debuted a new floor routine and it paid off with a 9.875, and she had a bounce back vault, scoring a team-high 9.95.

“She did a really nice job,” Farden said. “We wanted to get that (new floor routine) under her belt. For her to do that, we were really impressed.”

Utah had arguably is strongest outing on bars this year, with McCallum, Thompson and O’Keefe all scoring a 9.90 or better.

“I feel like our attention to detail has grown,” O’Keefe said. “We are paying a lot more attention to our handstands and sticks. Even though we’ve had ever-changing lineups, we’ve all stayed consistent.”

The list could continue and include the strong showing on floor — Utah’s lowest score was a 9.875 — but most encouraging, at least to the gymnasts themselves, was their newfound mindset, a mindset that could be directly traced back to the loss to Cal.

“I think (the loss to Cal) was a really good motivator,” McCallum said. “Sometimes you need to lose to come back better than before, and I think that is what we did.”

“Overall, we can all work on our confidence, humbling ourselves,” O’Keefe added. “In the past, I think we were a little cocky, whereas confidence can be really helpful.

“I think we took a step to gaining our confidence back tonight.”

And with it, their place as one of the elite teams in the country.