There is a reason Utah competed at home Friday night against Oregon State, followed by a meet a few short days later on Monday night in Seattle against Washington.

The Red Rocks want to be as prepared as possible for the postseason, both NCAA regionals and, hopefully, nationals.


Team scores — Utah 197.950; Washington 197.275

Event winners

All-around — Grace McCallum (Utah); 39.775

Balance beam — Grace McCallum (Utah); 9.975

Floor exercise — Sydney Soloski (Utah); 9.975

Uneven bars — Geneva Thompson (Washington); 9.925

Vault — Alexia Burch (Utah), Grace McCallum (Utah); 9.950

In both postseason competitions, meets occur on back-to-back days, so while the Friday-Monday meet combination doesn’t exactly mimic that experience, it does serve as a decent approximation.

Meets so close to each another provide Utah the opportunity to test both its physical and mental preparedness for what is to come.

Consider test No. 1 passed.

Last Friday, Utah recorded a season-high score of 198 in its win over Oregon State, and on Monday night, the Red Rocks were nearly as great, defeating Washington 197.950 to 197.275.

“Pleased with the overall performance of the night,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “... Nice team score on the road. Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve for that 198, but overall pleased.”

Freshman Grace McCallum had the best all-around performance of her collegiate career with a 39.775, while seniors Sydney Soloski and Alexia Burch had standout showings on floor exercise and vault, respectively, picking up event wins.

The Red Rocks had near season-best outings on balance beam, floor and vault, and the final team score was Utah’s best road score of the year.

Now that the rankings are based on National Qualifying Score (NQS), Utah’s score was good enough to move it from No. 4 overall back to No. 2, at least for now.

Perhaps most importantly, though, was the postseason preparation.

“From a fortitude standpoint, like we say in gymnastics or any sport, you want to get that mental toughness, and I think this (stretch) was a good prescription for the athletes,” Farden said.

“For them at home to go 198 and then two days later go 197.950, to have near mirror performances in terms of scores and in general. ... Hopefully it pays dividends down the road.”

Defining moment

No single routine won the competition for Utah, but there was a singular gymnast who stood out among the rest, even as her teammates had some of their best performances of the year.

McCallum was simply outstanding, the best she has been in a Utah leotard. She scored a 9.90 or better on all four events (including a 9.950 or better on three) and recorded a career-high 9.975 on beam.

From the get go, McCallum looked relaxed and in her element, arguably more so than she has in any other competition this year.

During her floor routine, she couldn’t stop smiling, and it wasn’t the ‘impress the judges’ kind of smile. Rather, McCallum was genuinely enjoying gymnastics.

“It has been a process (with Grace),” Farden said. “It is easy to take someone who is a double world champion and Olympic silver medalist and just assume they know how to do everything, but she is still an athlete, and we (the coaches) need to co-pilot this with her.

“This is a byproduct of understanding what she needs, of better training tips, of understanding the cues that work for her and also what works in practice with her. Tonight on balance beam she rehearsed with a pattern we’d worked on in practice, which was great.”

Needs work

Utah was strong throughout the competition, but there were still areas where the Red Rocks left tenths of a point on the floor.

On vault, Utah counted a 9.775 from Sage Thompson, in part because senior Cammy Hall took a significant step back on her landing, scoring a 9.425 as a result.

Others, such as Jaedyn Rucker and Lucy Stanhope, had solid outings, but steps on their landings led to scores of 9.850 and a 9.875 rather than the 9.90s that both gymnasts are easily capable of.

Will Kara Eaker be back in time for the postseason?
Why Jade Carey and Grace McCallum’s friendship is a perfect 10

On bars, Utah was clinical with its handstands, but dismounts and landings left something to be desired, and the result was four scores in the 9.80 range and just two 9.90s.

“On bars, wish we could take back a couple of those dismounts,” Farden said. “But handstands were good, had good shape. On vault, we had a really strong finish, but were uncharacteristic in the second spot with Cammy’s vault with her stepping backwards like that.”

That’s encouraging

Once again, there were plenty of positives for the Red Rocks.

  • Senior Alexia Burch had her best vault of the year, earning a 9.950.
  • Adrienne Randall had another excellent performance on beam, making for back-to-back strong showings.
  • Despite significant lineup changes on floor — Randall and Jaylene Gilstrap stepped in for the resting Rucker and Maile O’Keefe — Utah counted a low score of 9.875, which Gilstrap recorded in her first competitive routine of the season.

No two performances were more encouraging, however, than those of Amelie Morgan and Abby Paulson.

Morgan recorded a 9.950 on beam and a 9.900 on bars, both scores from her leadoff position in the lineup.

Over the last month, Morgan has become nearly automatic at the front of Utah’s lineups, but her impact goes beyond that.

“What (Amelie) is doing even better now is she is affecting the team with her confidence,” Farden said. “She has a quiet competitiveness, but she is rubbing off on the team.

“Beyond the scores that she is delivering and the beautiful gymnastics, you can see the competitiveness is brushing off.”

Paulson, meanwhile, has now led off on floor in three consecutive meets, taking over the role from the injured Jillian Hoffman.

She has thrived, never scoring lower than a 9.90, while pacing Utah to two of its best floor rotations this season.

“It is funny because we used (Abby) quite a bit in leadoff last year and I remembered that,” Farden said. “She was my go-to when Jillian went down and we were at Cal and had four seconds to make a decision. I didn’t hesitate. 

“What she does well, it is a new floor routine, with new first tumbling pass that is spectacular. She is high-pace, is dependable and has eye catching technicality. She is good at level change, which the judges look for. (Her routine) is clean and done really well.”