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The 2023 season isn’t over yet, but 2024 now looks very promising for Utah

Senior Maile O’Keefe, Jaedyn Rucker and Abby Paulson announced on Senior Night that they will be returning to Utah for a fifth season

SHARE The 2023 season isn’t over yet, but 2024 now looks very promising for Utah
Utah’s Jaedyn Rucker raises her arms.

Utah’s Jaedyn Rucker scores a perfect 10.0 on the vault as the Utah Red Rocks compete against Cal in a gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. Utah won.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

They are coming back. Nearly all of them.

Utah gymnastics seniors Maile O’Keefe, Jaedyn Rucker and Abby Paulson announced in tandem before the Red Rocks’ meet against Arizona on Friday night that they will be taking advantage of the fifth year of eligibility provided by the NCAA — due to COVID’s impact on the 2020 season — and will return to Utah for another year.

“They are okay. They’ll help. They’ll make some lineups,” Utah head coach Tom Farden joked. “Super excited to have them back. I don’t push this, the COVID fifth year thing. I step back and let them guide me through it.

“Abby was the first one. That is just Abby’s personality. She needs to know everything in life. That is just Paulson. Maile was second. She came to me and said, ‘I’m coming back, will you have me?’ And I said, ‘Of course.’

“And Jaedyn was last. They took their own time and my door is alway open... Each one of them wanted to stay and I think they are all staying for the right reasons. Those three have really bonded too, which is cool.”

The trio, all All-Americans — O’Keefe and Rucker are also individual NCAA champions — are part of one of the most successful classes in recent Utah history, having led the Red Rocks to back-to-back third place finishes at the national championships, with a potential run at a national championship awaiting this postseason.

Seniors Jillian Hoffman, Abby Brenner and Cristal Isa were all honored Friday as part of Utah’s Senior Night, though only Hoffman could have returned for an additional year (Isa and Brenner are currently in their fifth seasons).

With the return of O’Keefe, Rucker and Paulson, Utah is primed to be — once again — one of the premier women’s college gymnastics teams in the country in 2024.

The Red Rocks’ incoming freshmen class includes three five-star gymnasts — Elizabeth Gantner, Camie Winger and Ella Zirbes — who are among the top prospective freshman in the country.

“We are thrilled to have three incredible young women with outstanding talent join our Utah gymnastics family,” Farden said on National Signing Day. “They all come from wonderful families and nationally recognized clubs. Each of these future Red Rocks have shown that they thrive under pressure, and we believe they have what it takes to keep our program among the elite in NCCA gymnastics.” 

Additionally, Utah signed another freshman in Olivia Kennedy in mid-February.

With the return of O’Keefe, Rucker and Paulson, barring unexpected early retirements or transfers, Utah will boast a roster of 16 gymnasts, making the 2024 roster one of the deepest in recent memory.