FORT WORTH, Texas — They made it.

For the third straight season, Utah has advanced to the final meet of the NCAA women’s college gymnastics season.

And for the third consecutive year, the Red Rocks will compete for a national championship at Dickies Arena, alongside the best the sport has to offer.

On Saturday at 2 p.m. MDT — televised on ABC — Utah will compete against defending champion Oklahoma, Florida and LSU in a winner-take-all competition.

Win the meet and the Red Rocks are national champions.

It all comes down to one final competition.

Red Rocks on the air


NCAA women’s gymnastics championships final


Who: No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Florida, No. 5 Utah, No. 6 LSU
When: Saturday, 2 p.m. MDT
Where: Dickies Arena, Fort Worth, Texas (14,000 capacity)
TV: ABC
Livestream: ESPN+ (individual apparatus feeds)
Radio: ESPN 700

“We just need to stay in our bubble and focused on us,” Utah senior Maile O’Keefe said. “If we can do that, I think we can come out as NCAA champions.”

Utah has been wanting for a national championship for over a quarter century now — since 1995 — and up to this point in the season the Red Rocks have done just about everything they can to be prepared for Saturday’s competition, as individuals and as a collective.

To quickly rehash, Utah:

  • Won the Pac-12 championship for a record third straight season.
  • Defeated rival UCLA four times in a single season for the first time ever as conference foes.
  • Recorded back-to-back 198s at NCAA regionals for the first time in program history.
  • Scored a program-record 198.2250 in the semifinals of the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships, defeating Oklahoma, UCLA and Kentucky.

Individually, multiple Red Rocks gymnasts have made their mark this year:

  • O’Keefe set the program record for most perfect beam routines, both in a single season and in a career.
  • O’Keefe won the NCAA all-around title — the first Red Rock since 1999 — and the beam title, placing her second in program history with four individual NCAA championships, behind only Missy Marlowe.
  • Jaedyn Rucker recorded three perfect 10s on vault, tying the program record for the most in a single season. She is the only Utah gymnast ever to record a perfect score on vault in the NCAA postseason.
  • O’Keefe, Kara Eaker and Cristal Isa all earned regular-season All-America honors, while O’Keefe, Isa, Grace McCallum, Makenna Smith and Abby Brenner all earned postseason All-America honors with their performances in the semifinals.

Utah is as good as ever this season, a deserved finalist in an increasingly difficult sport.

“Our team deserved to be here just as much as everyone else,” McCallum said. “Everybody works so hard. Remembering that we are enough and that we deserve this spot was a great set up for Saturday, knowing it will be just as hard.”

Those involved expect Saturday’s national championship meet to be as difficult as any.

The Sooners have qualified to 10 straight national championship meets, while the Gators boast some of the biggest names in the sport, be it Trinity Thomas, Leanne Wong, Kayla DiCello, and, well, the list goes on and on.

Oh, and the Tigers have overcome challenge after challenge, injury after injury this season and still won their NCAA championships semifinal session, defeating Florida, Cal and Denver.

“There are so many talented athletes in NCAA gymnastics,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “What you have to do just to get here. ... Only three teams (Oklahoma, Florida and Utah) returned to the Elite Eight this year and now to the Final Four.

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“It is a gauntlet. Just the talent and the parity. Everybody’s gymnastics at this level is exquisite. We feel very fortunate to be in this position.”

Added Oklahoma head coach K.J. Kindler: “The teams that qualified in are incredible teams. It is going to come down to the nuts and bolts of everything that goes on that night. ... Every meet is a little bit tougher but now we are at the pinnacle. This is the last meet of their season and some of their careers.

“... We are definitely trying to win a national championship, as everyone else is.”

A look at Oklahoma, LSU and Florida

LSU’s Haleigh Bryant competes on the floor exercise during the semifinals of the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships, Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. | Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press

Competition for the national title will, understandably, be fierce.

Oklahoma is the juggernaut, having won five national championships in the last decade.

The Sooners are elite across the board, as evidenced by their performance in Thursday night’s semifinal.

Oklahoma scored a 49.4625 or better on all four events, including a high of 49.6625 on floor. The Sooners have a 2023 individual NCAA champion in Olivia Trautman (vault), plus an impressive share of All-Americans with Jordan Bowers, Audrey Davis, Katherine LeVasseur, Ragan Smith, Faith Torrez and Danielle Sievers.

The Sooners seem to consistently avoid the kind of significant mistakes that doom teams in the postseason and when they don’t avoid them, the Sooners somehow manage to overcome them.

After Thursday’s semifinal, Oklahoma believes it can be better. Considerably better at that.

“We definitely left a lot of tenths on the floor,” Kindler said. “There is no doubt about it. We can probably come up with six more (tenths of a point) with improved sticks on bars, beam and vault.

“You can’t expect to stick all your vaults, that isn’t realistic ... but if we can capture two or three good ones, that is going to help tremendously. The gymnastics was phenomenal, the landings could have been better tonight.”

LSU has had arguably the most difficult season of any national finalist.

Star Kiya Johnson competed in only two meets this season before suffering a season-ending injury. Utah transfer Cammy Hall has yet to suit up for LSU, thanks to a season-ending injury suffered in the preseason, and KJ Johnson missed a month of the season with an injury herself.

Throw in a rash of illness midseason and LSU has gone through the ringer.

And yet, the Tigers defeated all comers in their semifinal, thanks to incredible gymnastics from Haleigh Bryant and Aleah Finnegan, especially.

“They are a special, special group,” LSU head coach Jay Clark said. “Came in here really, you know, kind of knowing we were playing with house money a little bit and glad to be here. We wanted to enjoy the ride, take it as far as we possibly could, compete hard, not get timid, and create some sense of expectation that really hasn’t been there for us all year.”

Now that they are here, in the national championship meet itself, the Tigers aren’t going to put undue pressure on themselves. They aren’t favored to win, but who knows what can happen.

“My challenge to them is going to be the same,” Clark said. “Stay true to who you are. Let’s compete free. Let’s not scoreboard-watch. Let’s just go out and do our 24 routines and look up there and see what happens. They’ve been through a lot. I want them to enjoy it.”

Florida boasts some of the biggest names in the sport of gymnastics and for much of the season was viewed as the preeminent challenger to Oklahoma.

A lower leg injury to Thomas at regionals was a real blow to the Gators, but she returned to competition on Thursday — she competed on bars and vault — and helped Florida finish ahead of both Cal and Denver.

Wong remains one of the best gymnasts in the sport, as does DiCello, and the Gators boast some of the best depth of any team, even if they haven’t looked quite like themselves in recent competitions.

“Extremely proud of the fight of this team. They continue to persevere,” Florida head coach Jenny Rowland said. “This has not been an easy season. This is not an easy sport. These women are enough. Extremely proud of them.”

With Thomas back in the fold, Florida has every reason to be optimistic about its chances on Saturday, even if Thomas all but surely won’t compete in the all-around.

“Saturday is going to be amazing,” Rowland said. “No regrets. Everybody put everything they had into this season and we are going to lay it all out there. ... We have nothing to lose. Would love to see everyone be free to do something they love doing.”

How do the Red Rocks feel?

Utah celebrates after achieving the highest score in the second session of the semifinals of the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships, Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Fort Worth, Texas. | Tony Gutierrez, Associated Press

After winning their semifinal session Thursday night, in thrilling fashion no less, Utah has all the confidence in the world that it can compete at the level necessary to win a national title.

After all, the Red Rocks went head-to-head with elite teams in Oklahoma and UCLA, weren’t perfect and still walked out victorious.

Moreover, the Red Rocks posted a higher score Thursday than any of the teams they’ll face on Saturday and have scored above a 198 in three straight postseason competitions.

“It definitely helps prepare us,” O’Keefe said. “We all kind of knew coming in that our session was pretty stacked. That is just the way the dice rolled.

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“All we have to do (Saturday) is keep our heads down and keep going. Every team in our session and the other session are amazing and it is amazing to be here. Knowing that will definitely help prep us for Saturday.”

Utah has room for improvement, particularly on vault and to a lesser extent on floor. Time and again this season, though, the Red Rocks have answered the call and done enough to move on to the next thing.

“As you saw, the athletes continue to dial in and iron out those wrinkles,” Farden said. “In terms of clamping down and competing aggressively with confidence, they did that tonight.”

All that remains now is a national championship. Maybe this year it will be Utah that hoists the trophy when it is all said and done.