Following Utah’s loss to Cal two weeks ago, gymnasts were angry.
Angry they lost to a conference rival. Angry their streak of consecutive wins in the Pac-12 had come to an end. Angry about the quality of their gymnastics.
After Friday night’s performance on the road against Arizona, the Red Rocks should be furious.
Team scores — Arizona 196.850; Utah 196.775
All-around — Grace McCallum (Utah); 39.500
Balance beam — Maile O’Keefe (Utah); 9.975
Floor exercise — Grace McCallum (Utah); 9.925
Uneven bars — Sage Thompson (Utah); 9.925
Vault — Jaedyn Rucker (Utah); 9.950
Competing for the third time in eight days, Utah had its worst performance of the year and scored a season-low 196.775.
Arguably worse, though, was that Utah lost to previously winless Arizona for the first time ever (the Red Rocks were 67-0 against the Wildcats entering the meet).
“Obviously disappointed in tonight’s outcome,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “We coaches probably didn’t have the kids prepared like we should. We have to do a better job in that area.”
Utah was the better team on three events (floor exercise, uneven bars and vault), Grace McCallum won the all-around competition and a Red Rock won every single event title, but a season-worst score of 48.725 on balance beam undid everything that came before it.
Through three rotations, Utah was on pace to erase its then-season-low score of 197.275, recorded in the loss at Cal.
The Red Rocks weren’t excellent on any event but were solid by their standards, posting a 49.400 on floor, a 49.350 on bars and a 49.300 on vault.
The beam rotation started well enough, too, with another strong leadoff routine by Amelie Morgan and an even better one immediately afterward by McCallum.
Falls by Adrienne Randall and Cristal Isa — sandwiched around a 9.90 by Abby Paulson — cratered the rotation, however, despite a 9.975 by Maile O’Keefe to close things out.
Terrific routine from Maile and she wraps us up with a 9.975 ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Vp5iJ9Rxfs— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) February 26, 2022
Given that Utah had competed three times in eight days, fatigue could have been a ready-made excuse, but Farden wouldn’t have it.
“I point to the leg events,” he said. “There was nothing fatal or final on those events. An indicator (of fatigue) would be on floor, because you could see if they were landing short on passes or appear to be running out of gas.
“Sydney (Soloski) looked like she took a step back, but in reality she tweaked her toe running into (her final) pass, and other than that we had a lot of nice floor sets tonight. Really nice.”
The reality is at this point, Utah isn’t quite sure what is happening. The Red Rocks have struggled all season to hit 24 of 24 routines in a meet, having done it only one legitimate time, at home against Oklahoma in the second week of the season.
Falls have been prevalent on beam and vault, and against Arizona, Utah had three, one on vault and the two on beam.
“When we are clicking, the result is much different in terms of everything,” Farden said. “You can probably deduce or come up with a theory on mental things that are going on with the kids so that they can do what they need to in the decisive moment.
“And believe me, in practice these are simply things we are not seeing. That is why this is perplexing. I’ve said it before and I’m not kidding, obviously we need to figure out how to handle this.”
Eliminating falls is an obvious issue that Utah must improve upon and quickly, with upcoming meets against No. 8 Minnesota and No. 6 LSU and then the Pac-12 championships.
But it wasn’t just falls that undid Utah against Arizona.
On bars, Utah struggled with dismounts. Only Sage Thompson and Paulson stuck their landings.
Sage Thompson is just made for bars 😍 Another 9.925 for Sage!!— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) February 26, 2022
📲 https://t.co/DHBrRO1xrM pic.twitter.com/Wa5rpBVzfL
On vault, landings have, and continue to be, a real weakness. No Red Rock stuck their landing perfectly against the Wildcats, with only Jaedyn Rucker coming close (she scored a team-high 9.95 as a result).
Floor traditionally is an extreme strength for Utah, and there weren’t many glaring mistakes, except that a few tumbling passes weren’t landed cleanly (a front foot was dragged here or a gymnast was slightly out of control there).
Soloski scored a season low 9.825, days after scoring a 9.975, but in her case a slightly injured toe was to blame, and Farden was quick to note that it is nothing to be concerned about going forward.
“Yeah, just a stubbed toe. She is fine,” he said.
There were positives from the competition, even if they were overshadowed.
Grace McCallum was once again great, winning the all-around and an event (floor).
Get it Grace‼️ It's a 9.925 to get us going on floor!— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) February 26, 2022
📲 https://t.co/DHBrRO1xrM pic.twitter.com/vvQ9PPeQJT
Thompson had the best overall meet of her young Utah career, with a 9.925 on bars and a 9.800 on vault.
Amelie Morgan and Abby Paulson continued to perform well in leadoff roles, and Lucy Stanhope was solid on vault for the second consecutive week.
Rucker had one of the better meets of her Utah career, with an event win on vault and a 9.875 on floor, and O’Keefe had something of a bounce-back performance, scoring a 9.925 on floor and a 9.975 on beam.
Cleared for takeoff ✈️ Jaedyn Rucker flies HIGH for a 9.95!— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) February 26, 2022
📲 https://t.co/DHBrRO1xrM pic.twitter.com/1bLW6BfahD
Perhaps the most encouraging thing to come out of the meet, however, was an exhibition routine performed by Kara Eaker.
The freshman has been sidelined since Week 1 with a Grade 2 ankle sprain, but she competed an exhibition routine on beam, and her return to action appears imminent.
“She did a nice job,” Farden said.
Despite everything, Farden remains optimistic that his team will return to form with only two regular season meets remaining.
“We will do better,” he said. “We will bounce back.”