Almost everything went right for Utah at the Pac-12 championships
Utah scored a 198 in the second session of the Pac-12 gymnastics championships and won its second consecutive conference title
WEST VALLEY CITY — There is no doubt about it, Utah is the best gymnastics team in the Pac-12.
When the regular conference competition finished two weeks ago, Utah, Cal, Oregon State and Arizona State tied for the Pac-12 regular season title.
As such, Saturday night’s Pac-12 championships at the Maverik Center in West Valley City provided the opportunity for one of those teams to make a definitive case that it was the best team in the conference, the regular season tie notwithstanding.
Utah did not waste the opportunity.
In front of a Utah-heavy crowd, the Red Rocks scored a 198 and defeated the other seven teams in the conference, winning its second consecutive Pac-12 championship.
Cal finished in second place with a 197.425, while Oregon State (197.250), UCLA (196.950) and Arizona State (196.675) rounded out the top five.
Oregon State star Jade Carey won the all-around competition, while Utah’s Alexia Burch, Grace McCallum and Abby Paulson all won titles on individual events.
Team scores — Utah, 198.000; Cal, 197.425; Oregon State, 197.250; UCLA, 196.950; Arizona State, 196.675; Washington, 196.400; Arizona, 196.362; Stanford, 196.000.
- All-around — Jade Carey (Oregon State); 39.725.
- Balance beam — Abby Paulson (Utah); 9.975.
- Floor exercise — Jade Carey (Oregon State), Grace McCallum (Utah); 9.950.
- Uneven bars — Grace McCallum (Utah); 10.0.
- Vault — Alexia Burch (Utah); 9.925.
“It was cool to get that second chance (to win the conference title),” senior Sydney Soloski said. “This win is always special, but maybe a little bit more this year considering the circumstances.
“I’m extremely proud of this team. These girls are resilient, tough and fun. I’m so proud of everybody. This was a really special night.”
As great as the conference title is, the meet and Utah’s showing in it meant even more.
Utah has designs on winning the national title — it would be the program’s first since 1995 — and the 198 scored at a neutral site on podium with the increased scrutiny brought by the conference championships only reinforced the notion that this Utah team can do something special this season.
- Gymnast of the Year — Jade Carey (Oregon State).
- Specialist of the Year — Maile O’Keefe (Utah).
- Freshman of the Year — Jade Carey (Oregon State).
- Coach of the Year — Tanya Chaplin (Oregon State).
“This is such an indicative meet when it comes to postseason, when things are sudden death,” Soloski said. “Scoring a 198 is just a confidence booster.
“We all know what we are capable of but it always helps when you see that score pop up, to know that we are really good and we are going to be fighting to the end. This is only the start for this team.”
Added Utah head coach Tom Farden: “There are a lot of good gymnastics teams, teams that can put up that kind of score. For us to run in that circle, it is validation, but I also think it is necessary.”
In a competition as fierce as the conference championships, there usually isn’t just one routine that alters the course of the meet.
The gymnasts and teams involved are too good to be put away by a single timely performance.
So on Saturday night, Utah needed two momentum changing routines.
The first came on bars, following what can only be described as a subpar performance on vault.
Utah started the meet on vault and genuinely struggled, as only Burch scored above a 9.90. Utah finished the rotation with a 49.275, a score that was well below the Red Rocks’ capabilities.
A poor showing on bars could have doomed Utah, especially with Cal and Oregon State starting the competition strong.
So of course Amelie Morgan completed exactly the routine that was needed.
All season long Morgan has been an elite leadoff gymnast, and with Utah in need of a great routine, Morgan did what she almost always seems to do.
Running out of words to say about our leadoff queen 👑 Amelie Morgan scores a 9.90 to start bars!— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 20, 2022
💻 https://t.co/gKNXEY9om9 pic.twitter.com/Jy8n9u75g7
She scored a 9.90 to start the bars rotation — a rotation that would go on to include a perfect 10 from McCallum and 9.90-plus routines by Cristal Isa and Sage Thompson — giving Utah all the momentum it needed to post a 49.550.
“When Amelie dropped that 9.90, the rest of the bars took off,” Farden said. “We had a couple of athletes that didn’t exactly stick their dismounts, but bars is where it changed.
“That is where we saw they came to fight.”
For as much momentum as Utah had after bars, the Red Rocks lost almost all of it early in the beam rotation.
Utah seemed to be on track after Morgan led off the rotation with a 9.925, but a pair of significant balance checks by McCallum and Burch during their respective routines threatened to throw the conference title up for grabs.
That is until Paulson stepped up and performed arguably her best routine of the year. Paulson scored a 9.975 — two of the four judges thought she was perfect — and the effect was immediate.
No doubt about it 💪 Abby Paulson with a HUGE 9.975!!— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 20, 2022
💻 https://t.co/uCFCPrtJdr pic.twitter.com/dojj7qwOZQ
The next two routines, courtesy of Isa and Maile O’Keefe, were among the best on beam by any gymnast in either session — Isa and O’Keefe each earned a 9.950 — and Utah then went on to score a 49.525 on floor, winning the meet and the conference title before anchor Soloski even competed.
“It was an Abby beam routine,” McCallum said. “It is what she does in the gym every day. It was amazing.”
Vault has been Utah’s Achilles’ heel all season long, and that was once again the case. Outside of Burch, who won the Pac-12 vault title, the Red Rocks struggled on what was once, only a few years ago, their premier event.
McCallum was the best of the rest and scored a 9.875, but Lucy Stanhope, Jaedyn Rucker and O’Keefe all struggled enough on their landings to earn scores in the 9.80 range.
A fall by Cammy Hall, meanwhile, meant Utah failed to hit 24 of 24 routines in the meet.
Utah has shown itself capable on vault at times this season, but more often than not the Red Rocks have competed like they did Saturday night.
Good for most teams, but not good enough for Utah.
“Not a picture perfect start,” Farden said. “We had to throw that (vault rotation) behind us.”
Well, save for Burch’s routine. Her vault title was the culmination of five years of work.
Alexia Burch with the highest score of the day so far on vault: 9.925. 🙌— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 20, 2022
📺 Pac-12 Network
📱https://t.co/FutJQjqNH3 @UtahGymnastics | #GoUtes | #Pac12Gym pic.twitter.com/ioQ51UTEKo
“When you watch that happen, we’ve watched her refine that vault and debut it on our floor,” Farden said.
“To watch her perform that vault and win the Pac-12 title, that was the whipped cream and cherry on top.”
Whenever Utah breaks the 198 barrier it is easy to find areas in which the Red Rocks excelled.
Utah was elite on three events and had standout performances across the board.
None, arguably, was more notable than McCallum’s showing on bars. She earned her second perfect 10 of the season on the event, and given the stage, this one was even more special than the first.
PERFECT 10 x2 ‼️@grace_mccallum2 posts a flawless score on bars for the second time this season.— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) March 20, 2022
📺 Pac-12 Network
📱https://t.co/FutJQjqNH3@UtahGymnastics | #GoUtes | #Pac12Gym pic.twitter.com/Q5xA0ox1xb
“She was in her element tonight,” Farden said. “That bar routine was special. The way she dropped that dismount, we’ve been working on that, so that was really cool to see in such a decisive moment. She was vertical, feet reaching to the ground and darted that thing.”
McCallum finished second in the all-around competition behind Carey. After an up-and-down start to her Utah career, the freshman has seemingly figured out college gymnastics.
She's REALLY good 😍 Grace McCallum wraps up her night with a 9.95!— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 20, 2022
💻 https://t.co/e30Rv1D8Hd pic.twitter.com/uir2yhdJLy
O’Keefe made her return to the lineup after missing the LSU meet due to sickness. Competing in the all-around for only the second time this year, O’Keefe scored a 39.500, the best all-around score by a gymnast not named Carey or McCallum.
“Doing all four (events) is really fun,” O’Keefe said. “I’d kind of forgotten what it was like. Being focused the entire night, I really like it.”
Morgan scored a 9.90 or better on both her routines; Soloski continued her run of scores better than 9.90 on floor; and Utah got strong performances from Thompson, Isa and Jaylene Gilstrap, among others.
One last time in the state of Utah for this floor queen and Sydney Soloski posts a 9.925! 🤩 pic.twitter.com/ZrdXFycqqq— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 20, 2022
“We started preparing for the detail work (for this meet) three weeks ago in practice,” Farden said, “cleaning up the little details on each event that the judges would see. We worked on those things, so this does mean more.”