It took a perfect 10, season-high scores and a walk-off beam routine, but Utah defeated rival UCLA
The No. 3-ranked Red Rocks defeated the No. 22-ranked Bruins 197.750 to 197.650, Utah’s third straight win in Los Angeles against its rivals.
What more can be said about Maile O’Keefe?
Entering Friday night’s meet against the rival UCLA Bruins, O’Keefe had already secured herself a lofty place in the annals of Utah gymnastics history. Two individual national championships and two perfect 10’s will do that.
At the rate she is going, though, O’Keefe might need a statue when it is all said and done.
With the meet against No. 22 UCLA hanging in the balance inside a rocking Pauley Pavilion, O’Keefe delivered for No. 3 Utah, like she always does.
The junior scored a 9.975 — the exact score needed — on Utah’s final routine of the competition, lifting the Utes to a 197.750-197.650 victory.
Team scores — Utah 197.750; UCLA 197.650
All-around — Jordan Chiles (UCLA); 39.700
Balance Beam — Maile O’Keefe (Utah); 9.975
Floor Exercise — Jordan Chiles (UCLA); 10.0
Uneven Bars — Grace McCallum (Utah); 10.0
Vault — Lucy Stanhope (Utah); 9.95
It was the Red Rocks’ third consecutive win over the Bruins in Los Angeles, going back to 2018.
The 197.750 was Utah’s second-best team score of the year, behind only the score that toppled Oklahoma.
Utah earned season-high scores on both uneven bars and vault (identical 49.550s), recording four scores of 9.90 or better on each event.
Freshman Grace McCallum recorded the first perfect 10 of her collegiate career, while fellow freshman Amelie Morgan had a breakout performance with multiple 9.90s.
There was elite gymnastics across the board — UCLA had by far its best meet of the season, led by Jordan Chiles’ breakout all-around winning performance — but when the meet was on the line, it was O’Keefe who lifted Utah to victory.
“We started off incredible on three events,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “I thought we did a really good job on bars, and then vault and floor, even though we had a couple little mistakes. The momentum was going our way.
“We had a little trouble in the interior (of the balance beam lineup), but the anchors (Abby Paulson, Cristal Isa and O’Keefe), those last three gymnasts really locked it down. Impressed with their fortitude to come away with a win in a hostile environment.”
For the second consecutive week, O’Keefe was responsible for most important moment in the meet, and this time it came in a competition chocked full of standout routines.
McCallum’s perfect 10 on bars was equal parts shocking and amazing, and she followed it up with strong performances on vault and floor.
Morgan, meanwhile, had by far her best competition as a Ute.
But after Adrienne Randall and McCallum fell off the beam, Utah was in dire straights. The Red Rocks had held a commanding lead over the Bruins, but that lead disappeared after the falls (Utah had been on pace to earn its first score of 198 or better since 2020, and that too went out the window).
With the Bruins surging, Utah needed near perfection from Paulson, Isa and O’Keefe to walk away with the win.
Paulson delivered a 9.90, after which Isa added a 9.925. After Isa, though, Chiles recorded a perfect 10 on floor for UCLA.
That score necessitated that O’Keefe earn either a 9.975 or a perfect 10 to ensure Utah was victorious.
One O’Keefe beam routine later, of course, and Utah had once again defeated its rival.
“(Maile) was in her element,” Farden said. “Almost felt like she locked everything out and was so focused.
“We have the luxury of seeing her week in and week out in a Utah arena, but it was another level to see her in this arena, on ESPN, and with the crowd they had. Super impressed with her being able to lock that down.”
So far this season, Utah has been one of the best teams in the country, fluctuating between a top 2 or top 3 ranking.
The Red Rocks have been a top 6 team on every event and are scoring better — at this juncture in the season — than any previous Utah team.
What the Red Rocks haven’t done, however, is have a perfect meet, i.e. hit 24 of 24 routines (at least not to the best of their abilities).
In all but one meet this season, Utah has had a gymnast fall off an apparatus, sit on the mat or step out of bounds, and the Red Rocks have earned at least two scores in the 9.70 range or lower every week.
That continued against UCLA.
Alexia Burch, Jaedyn Rucker, Randall and McCallum all made major mistakes, earning scores in the 9.10, 9.20, or 9.30 range.
Those mistakes and others haven’t especially hurt the Red Rocks this year, but Utah will need to eliminate them if national title contention is the goal.
It remains the goal.
“With everything, this win is bittersweet because the greedy part of us wants to max out right now,” Farden said.
The falls, coupled with the dramatic nature of the win, could be seen as a learning experience, something that might steel Utah against more trying times to come.
That won’t be known until the postseason, though.
“That is the untold story,” Farden said. “You go through this stuff and that is what the regular season is.
“This is exactly what the regular season is used for, to get the athletes conditioned to chaos and distractions and quickly adjust.”
While falls have plagued Utah, Friday night also saw the Red Rocks have their best overall performances on bars and vault this year.
With a 49.550 on both events, Utah proved itself capable of reaching the type of scores needed to contend come the postseason.
“With those events, hitting season highs on the road is exactly what you want to see,” Farden said.
Utah also benefitted from standout performances from multiple gymnasts.
McCallum has had an up and down start to her Utah career — in a lot of ways the UCLA meet was a microcosm for her freshman season — but she showcased elite ability on multiple events.
“Grace was incredible,” Farden said. “She came up big on vault, following a fall, and then followed a major mistake on floor. She is developing and doing a great job.
“That was an incredible (bars) routine by her. She was a little early on her (beam) series and that was not characteristic of her, but we will work on that.”
Morgan, meanwhile, has become the rarest kind of leadoff gymnast, the kind who delivers scores that teams want to keep by the end of a rotation.
“Hats off to Amelie Morgan for what she is doing,” Farden said. “Amelie started us off on balance beam and was incredible. Just incredible.
“That was her third variation of her balance beam routine of the year, and we are only in the first weekend in February. She is setting the tone on the intricate events. She is such a valuable asset.”