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Red Rocks capture season-opening win at Best of Utah meet

The University of Utah celebrates winning the Rio Tinto Best of Utah NCAA gymnastics meet against Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Southern Utah University at the Maverik Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.
The University of Utah celebrates winning the Rio Tinto Best of Utah NCAA gymnastics meet against Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Southern Utah University at the Maverik Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Utah’s gymnastics team checked off many of the boxes it wanted to Friday night in the Rio Tinto Best of Utah meet.

But like any team, admitted after its season debut there are places for improvement and places to build on success.

The fourth-ranked Red Rocks notched their best score in the history of the in-state rivalry quad meet at 197.100 to win (USU 195.875, BYU 195.225, SUU 195.000). They didn’t count a fall on the night, but they didn’t hit every routine like they wanted to either.

“One of the things we wanted to do was hit 24 routines. A little short on that, but I do think the team handled some adversity,” said Utah coach Tom Farden.

The Red Rocks didn’t shy away from a tough assignment on the first rotation on beam, putting three freshmen in the one-two-three spots to kickstart the lineup.

But let’s be honest, these aren’t your typical freshmen with Olympians Amelie Morgan, Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker having competed at the highest levels of gymnastics before joining Utah.

Still it was their first meet as Red Rocks.

“I thought that was incredible for the freshmen to be able to handle beam the way we did,” said Farden.

Though the freshmen have impressive resumes, Morgan admitted the three newcomers are still settling in and making adjustments.

Utah notched a 49.375 for a great start on the night despite a fall from Abby Paulson, who typically is one of Utah’s best in the rotation.

Cristal Isa led the way for the Red Rocks with a 9.9, which held up for the event win. Beam proved Utah’s best effort of the night and showed it’s ready for another season of success with the nail biting event.

Paulson responded well on the next rotation and led Utah out the gate with a 9.875 on floor. The rest of Utah’s lineup followed with solid routines, but had a few steps on landings and an out of bounds to prevent the team from recording the scores its accustomed to (49.175).

Utah then turned its attention to vault, but unfortunately suffered what could prove a crushing loss, as Eaker’s hand slipped during her warmup and she suffered an injury.

Farden didn’t know the severity of the injury after the meet because Eaker was still being evaluated, but admitted he’ll be heartbroken for the freshman if the diagnosis isn’t good.

While the Red Rocks are hoping for good news on Eaker, they’ve also heavily discussed that this could be Utah’s deepest team ever.

“I think everyone is so committed to the team that they are willing to step in whenever they need to,” said Isa.

Despite being rattled by watching Eaker be carried off the floor, the Red Rocks responded well and made vault their second-best score of the night at 49.325.

“We threw five 10.0 vaults, which is the most we’ve done since I’ve been here,” said Farden. “That’s a big step for the program, to do those and to get under their belts.”

Jaedyn Rucker and McCallum notched 9.90s to lead Utah and record event titles.

The Red Rocks closed out their night on bars with a 49.225 but did see McCallum have some struggles, which Farden called “uncharacteristic.”

But Utah didn’t need to count the score as Isa and NCAA champion Maile O’Keefe both notched 9.875s to close out the rotation and tie for the event win.

“We wanted to get this first meet under their belt,” said Farden. “If this team could just settle down a little bit — they almost get a little high strung because it’s a team of perfectionists. Some of the mistakes we made tonight were from trying to be too perfect.”

Other highlights from the meet included Utah State’s Brie Clark winning floor with a 9.925 after a beautiful routine. Utah State’s Rebecca Wells (39.125) topped McCallum in the all-around.

BYU’s Brittney Vitkauskas recorded a 9.875 on floor and Eliza Miller had a 9.875 on beam for a lineup missing several gymnasts.

Southern Utah’s best effort came on bars with Hannah Nipp and Shylen Murakami knotting 9.85s.