There’s making history, and then there’s what Utah did against Minnesota
The Red Rocks made all kinds of history Friday night in their final home meet of the season, including the best score by any team this season and three perfect 10s
Throw out the record books.
Friday night at the Huntsman Center, the Red Rocks remade Utah gymnastics’ storied history.
No. 4 Utah defeated No. 9 Minnesota on Senior Night 198.575 to 197.850. That team score is the second best in Utah history and tied with No. 3 Florida and No. 6 Auburn for the best score by any team in the country this year.
Team scores — Utah 198.575; Minnesota 197.850
All-around — Grace McCallum (Utah), Ona Loper (Minnesota); 39.675
Balance beam — Maile O’Keefe (Utah); 10.0
Floor exercise — Sydney Soloski (Utah); 9.975
Uneven bars — Sage Thompson (Utah), Maile O’Keefe; 10.0
Vault — Mya Hooten (Minnesota); 9.975
It is also just the tip of the iceberg.
- Utah recorded a program-best 49.800 on uneven bars, tying the best rotation in program history, a 49.800 on floor exercise against BYU in 2001.
- Between Maile O’Keefe and Sage Thompson, Utah scored three perfect 10s, including back-to-back 10s on bars.
- That was the first time Utah has had back-to-back perfect routines in a meet since 2015, and the first time the Red Rocks have ever done it on bars.
- O’Keefe became the first Red Rock since Theresa Kulikowski in 1999 to earn multiple perfect 10s in a meet. O’Keefe did it on bars and beam.
- O’Keefe now has four perfect 10s in her career, putting her two behind Ashley Postell for sixth place in Utah history.
BACK TO BACK 10s!! MAILE O'KEEFE SCORES ANOTHER 10!! 🥵— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 5, 2022
This bar rotation is on 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/HiwsAcNBPo
- Now with two perfect 10s on beam this season, O’Keefe is tied for the most ever by a Ute in a single season, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ute greats such as Kristen Kenoyer, Missy Marlowe, Kulikowski and Postell.
It was the greatest all-around meet Utah has had in years and by far the most complete meet of this season.
The history made rendered the 49.725 the Red Rocks earned on beam and the 49.675 on floor amusing side notes, and the same can be said about Grace McCallum having one of the best meets of her career, or Kara Eaker making her return to competition, or Utah having 16 routines score 9.90 or better, or the Red Rocks hitting 24 of 24 routines for only the second time all year, etc.
It was just that kind of a night. It was a night to remember.
“In warmups you could kind of tell,” senior Cristal Isa said. “It was like ‘Oh yeah, we are going to get it together this meet. ... We really let loose tonight. That worked out really nice.”
In a meet filled with perfect scores and history-making moments, there was arguably no one defining moment that altered the course of the competition.
Except, there may have been two, and not what you’d expect either.
The first came early on, during the vault rotation.
Utah dealt with some adversity early, replacing lead off gymnast Jaylene Gilstrap at the last second with Sage Thompson.
As it turns out, Gilstrap was replacing Thompson to begin with, but during warmups, something looked off on her vault, so Utah pivoted again.
Things were little off because of that — Thompson scored a 9.775 — until senior Cammy Hall performed the last routine of her career in Salt Lake City.
Despite the emotions of Senior Night, Hall landed one of her best vaults of the year, and it snapped Utah back into focus.
Tears of absolute joy 😭😭 What a moment for our senior, Cammy Hall! She scores a 9.925!— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 5, 2022
💻 https://t.co/LThVYOvluU pic.twitter.com/zAtCnMwDlK
“When Cammy stuck it,” Isa said, before trailing off. “She is very emotional person, and the fact that she did it right after her senior moment changed everything.”
Except there may have been an even more impactful routine, in the following rotation on bars.
Amelie Morgan got Utah off to a rousing start with a 9.875, but it was McCallum’s routine that set the stage for everything the Red Rocks would go on to do.
McCallum was excellent and earned a 9.975 as a result. Per Utah head coach Tom Farden, everything clicked for Utah after that.
GRACE. McCALLUM. It's a 9.975 for our superb freshman‼️— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 5, 2022
💻 https://t.co/LThVYOvluU pic.twitter.com/IoJh14YnYp
“It started clicking with Grace,” he said. “Amelie had a great bar routine, but Grace set the tone and changed the meet. When she nailed that routine, we caught fire and we carried that momentum all the way through.”
Of course, the perfect 10s only helped matters, with Thompson’s coming right after McCallum’s routine, and O’Keefe’s after that.
Eaker’s return to competition — she competed in the fifth spot of the beam lineup — led directly into O’Keefe’s second perfect score, and senior Sydney Soloski made sure things ended about as well as they could, with a nearly flawless 9.975 for her final floor routine.
Last double layout from Sydney Soloski in the Huntsman 💓 She scored another 9.975, but it was perfect in our eyes! pic.twitter.com/QcXTNLyp66— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 5, 2022
“It was the moment I’d dreamt of for a long time,” Soloski said. “I even told the girls that after my floor routine to let me have a moment. I knew the moment I landed I was going to start crying. It is indescribable, the amount of love I felt in that moment from people who don’t even know me. I’m so grateful.”
In a meet like this, it can feel almost violent to point out miscues, but that isn’t the case from Utah’s perspective.
Even after the single best score by any team in the country this season, the Red Rocks emphasized the need for improvement.
“Coming off of this everyone has the confidence we need, but we still have lots to prove,” Soloski said. “We haven’t won anything yet.”
Vault in particular was a weak spot. While Utah made history on bars and remained elite on beam and floor, the vault lineup only scored a 49.375.
Only two Utes scored a 9.90 or better — Hall and Lucy Stanhope — but on the positive side, Utah landed all six of its vaults.
“When you build a team, and it has taken us a few years, you have a vision,” Farden said. “That vision is to have every gymnast, 1 through 6, score a 9.90. That is the goal.
“We aren’t there on vault right now. We handled some adversity well. The start of the meet was a little chaotic, and I was happy to see our 10.0 start vaults do a nice job, but we need one more vault.”
Due to the nature of the meet, there were almost too many positives to take away.
O’Keefe admitted that the history Utah made is hard to fathom, at least right now. It’ll take time and reflection to truly comprehend what happened Friday night.
“I think that might be something that comes later,” she said. “When we reflect on last season, it seems so special. Now, it is kind of crazy to hear these stats, to try to understand what we are doing.”
What the Red Rocks did understand Friday was that they hit 24 of 24 routines for only the second time all season. That has been the most difficult thing for the team to pull off this year, and finally they did it.
“We’ve been talking all season about how we could do and what would happen (if we hit 24 of 24 routines),” O’Keefe said. “It all came together tonight. Now we just need to carry on and keep doing what we do in the gym in competition.”
“We knew on Monday that there was a different tone (with the team),” Farden added. “They were being more intentional. And then we hit 24 routines. That was the goal, to do that and see where that takes us. They were obviously good tonight.”
The bars rotation was particularly impressive and not just for the high scores, which included two 10s, a 9.975, a 9.95 and two 9.875s.
“I thought they just went out there and swung their bars aggressively and crisp,” Farden said. “We had been working on it in practice, to let those dismounts rip, and they did that, rather than trying to stick.
“It was really good for those underclassmen. Good for Sage and good for Maile.”
Farden was also enamored by Eaker in her return to competition. The freshman was expected to be a star for Utah this year before a Grade 2 ankle sprain sidelined her for the first two months of the season.
She scored a 9.90 in her return and impressed beyond that.
She's BACK! Kara Eaker returns with a bang and scores a 9.90! 💥— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 5, 2022
💻 https://t.co/LThVYOvluU pic.twitter.com/Xmub5R3Eui
“I thought she went up there and was determined to show the fanbase and herself that she was ready to hit the road running,” Farden said.
“There is a reason she was fifth in the lineup, too. We think she is that caliber of an athlete.”
No gymnast was more impressive than O’Keefe, though. Even as multiple Red Rocks won events or scored better than a 9.90, O’Keefe proved to be simply on another level.
Just no words at this point... ANOTHER 10.0 for Maile‼️ It's her second of the night 😱 pic.twitter.com/53v3lBkiAh— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) March 5, 2022
“Maile is one of those rare athletes that have the attributes it takes (to be great),” Farden said. “You watch balance beam and and you can’t help it, you get drawn in.
“That is what I saw when I recruited her. I can’t explain, but she has the it factor, and we have lots of kids with that. She is heating up. The whole team is heating up.”
Entering the final month and a half of the season, with multiple scores of 198 this year, Utah fears no one.
“I think a 198 is not as rare as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t special,” Soloski said.
““It is still a huge score. When teams score a 198, you go ‘Oh, they are really good.’ We’ve joined the 198 club twice this season. We are equally as scary as anyone else.”
And now one of the best teams in Utah gymnastics history. That’s what the new record books will say.