Utah’s gymnastics team won its 10th meet of the season Friday night inside the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, defeating Utah State 197.275 to 196.500. The Red Rocks, regular season Pac-12 champions, improved to 10-1 on the year and won their 90th consecutive meet against the Aggies.

A Utah gymnast won every single event, excluding the all-around competition, with Maile O’Keefe taking balance beam and uneven bars, Sydney Soloski winning another floor exercise title and Alexia Burch and Lucy Stanhope sharing the win on vault.


Team scores — Utah, 197.275; Utah State, 196.500

Event winners

All-around — Leighton Varnadore (Utah State); 39.150

Balance beam — Maile O’Keefe (Utah); 9.95

Floor exercise — Sydney Soloski (Utah); 9.95

Uneven bars — Maile O’Keefe (Utah); 9.90

Vault — Alexia Burch (Utah), Lucy Stanhope (Utah); 9.90

And yet, for all that success, the Red Rocks walked away feeling like they lost.

“This was probably our worst team performance (of the season),” Soloski said. “This was not an indication of what we are capable of. Our team didn’t show up tonight, and it is really disappointing to see how much hard work is done in the gym and it is not translating over.”

With expectations as high as ever — wining a national title remains one of the team’s stated goals — Utah’s performance against Utah State was not up to the program’s standards, nor that of other title contending programs.

While Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan and LSU all posted at least a 197.450 in their latest meets — the Wolverines broke the 198 barrier — Utah had one of its worst meets of the year. It was not what the Red Rocks wanted, nor what they needed heading into the postseason.

“Really disappointed in our performance tonight,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “I know we came away with the win, but there were way too many mistakes that we left out there.”

Utah counted scores as low as 9.650 and suffered falls on both vault and floor. The team entered the competition with the goal of earning more than 11 scores of 9.90 or above and walked away with only nine.

“We have some stuff to figure out in the next week,” Soloski said. “This was 100 percent mental mistakes. This was people not having enough heart on the floor. This was people not trusting in their gymnastics.”

Defining moment

Throughout the season, the defining moment of meets have usually been either the routine, rotation or gymnast who had the best showing or altered the course of the meet, usually in Utah’s favor.

Cristal Isa has been mentioned before, both after the Best of Utah and the meet against California. O’Keefe has earned praise as well, after her perfect 10 on beam against Washington. The entire beam team has been recognized, as has the floor lineup, as each group has won meets for Utah this season.

On a night like Friday, though, the defining moment was anything but positive.

Coming off a season-best outing at Oregon State, Utah had designs on another leap forward. Instead, the team had six scores of 9.775 or lower, including a fall on vault and floor. Throw in four scores of 9.825, and the Red Rocks simply were not at their best, nor anywhere close to it.

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It was on every event, too, even beam and floor, the Red Rocks’ elite events.

“There were a lot of mistakes, significant mistakes on every event,” Farden said. “You look at the score tab and you are looking at 9.2s, 9.6s and 9.7s. Every event suffered a fall or some 9.7s and that is not the expectation.”

Farden nor his staff saw a performance like this coming, which may have been the most frustrating part.

“We had a really good week at practice, so obviously frustrated,” Farden said. “We definitely took a dip. We’ve trained the athletes to the best of our ability and we are still fine tuning things, but at some point, we all have to get together in the same boat and start rowing in the right direction.”

Area for improvement

Where to start?

Every lineup had its faults, and momentum on nearly every event was all but nonexistent.

The vault lineup could be singled out, but so too could bars — landings were once again an issue — or floor.

If you believe Utah week in and week out, practices are anything but like what the team showed against Utah State.

“It is extremely disappointing because I’ve seen these kids hit 9.9s day after day in the gym,” Soloski said, “and it is not happening on the floor.”

With that in mind, the biggest area for improvement has to be translating the work done in the practice gym to the competition floor. How to do that exactly is clearly a work in progress right now, but with the Pac-12 championship upcoming, there is a sense of urgency.

“Some sports psychologists say you play down to your opponent and I’m not sure if that was it or if something else was going on, but this was not indicative of what their training has been or the build process we are trying to prescribe,” Farden said.

“We just misfired too many times. I wish I could put my finger on it, believe me. We are trying as a staff to put our finger on it. We know we have talented athletes and this is a talented group we have assembled, but for whatever reason, last week we had a great performance and then this weekend not so much.”

Area for excitement

On a night when not much went right for Utah, Lucy Stanhope did and in a big way. The freshman from Warrington, England had the best overall meet of her young Red Rocks career, earning a 9.90 on floor and vault and a 9.875 on beam, her best scores this season.

It was a bounce-back performance to boot, as Stanhope had been slated to compete in the all-around against Oregon State a week ago but was pulled from the floor lineup after Farden felt she wasn’t at her best.

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Rather than wilt in the face of that setback, Stanhope responded with a career night a week later.

“Lucy wanted this opportunity,” Farden said. “Last weekend wasn’t her best performance as a Red Rock, but she went out there (tonight) with some fire in her belly and wanted to get some work done. She really did have herself a great night.”

Stanhope might be exceedingly early expectations as well, or at the very least meeting them.

“Lucy was a pretty highly touted athlete, a national team member from Great Britain and we felt that she could roll into an all-arounder,” Farden said. “We thought she could get there. She is fitting those expectations and doing a marvelous job for us.”

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