SALT LAKE CITY — The No. 3 Red Rocks entered the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma, looking to take down the No. 2 team in the country in a rare regular-season meet.
Utah opened up the meet with a strong bars performance to take a narrow lead after the first rotation (49.275-49.150), but struggled to stitch together a consistent effort the rest of the afternoon and fell to Oklahoma 197.025-196.550. It's the first loss in two seasons for the Red Rocks, who went 11-0 last year.
"If we want to talk about staying at the top of the conference and then talk about making finals, you've got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable," Utah head coach Tom Farden said. "And today, there were some instances where we weren't very comfortable. And as a coach, you've got to expose your athlete — we feel you've got to give that opportunity to your athletes so the next time we go out there we've learned from this and we're better."
The Red Rocks will have plenty to learn after Saturday.
Utah fell behind on vault, its second rotation of the meet, and was forced to claw back the rest of the afternoon to keep within striking distance of the Sooners. Sophomore Maile O'Keefe, who won the meet's all-around with a 39.550, opened up the event by sticking her landing and scoring a 9.850, but it was downhill from there as no other gymnasts challenged her score.
Cristal Isa, who was the only other Utah gymnast to compete in the all-around, went second and stumbled on her landing to finish with a 9.70. The hope was her score wouldn't count, but Alexia Burch, in the fifth spot, fell on her landing, which meant Isa's score counted. Jaedyn Rucker and Lucy Stanhope added scores of 9.825, but Utah finished with its worst score of the night, a 49.000 rotation.
Conversely, Oklahoma put together a strong performance on bars in the second rotation, a 49.275 score, to overtake the Utes for the first time of the meet. Oklahoma's Audrey Davis won the event with a 9.90 score, with all remaining gymnasts scoring over a 9.825.
Despite the struggles at vault, Utah put together a better floor performance, where Utah ranks No. 1 in the country, to close the gap on the Sooners, with only .100 separating the two programs entering the final rotation (147.675-147.575). Sydney Soloski won the event with a 9.90 score in the anchor position, with all other gymnasts scoring no less than a 9.825.
Jaylene Gilstrap, who was a last-minute addition to the floor event after Farden decided in warmups to pull Stanhope from the lineup, opened up the rotation in the second spot with a strong 9.850 for her first event as a member of the Red Rocks.
"It was really refreshing for Jaylene to go out there and do what she does in practice and then do it in the meet," Farden said. "So it was really refreshing."
But Utah couldn't maintain its momentum from the third rotation and had a rough beam performance to close out the meet with an event-low 48.975 score.
Emilie LeBlanc opened up beam with a fall, leaving little opportunity for Utah to make a mistake the rest of the way. In the second spot, Alexia Burch got a 9.80 score before Isa was deducted several points for her performance and got a 9.625. Adrienne Randall got things back on track with a 9.875 score and then O'Keefe hit a meet-high 9.950 in the fifth spot, which helped her win the all-around.
"Maile was in her zone tonight and I couldn't be more proud of what she (did) — she came out on bars and as soon as I saw that bar routine and the vault, we knew that Maile was here and was one of the individuals that came to play," Farden said. "Collectively, as a team, we did not. I could feel it in warm-ups, and then it didn't snap and it continued during the meet. Brilliant performance by Maile. I think that was her best beam routine of her career. To get the stick on vault and start us off strong — it was a good shot in the arm. I wish we would have taken advantage of it."
But in the anchor spot, Abby Paulson stumbled on the beam and couldn't get higher than a 9.725, which gave the Sooners a comfortable win.
"The third rotation going into the fourth, we had climbed ourselves out of our hole that we dug after vault and we're back in the meet," Farden said. "There's things that I feel like both teams could have made up better, but we've got to do a better job in the gym, and then transferring that when we're actually in the competition floor against the nation's elite. Hats off to Oklahoma, they won today and had an incredible day."
Utah's remaining schedule is yet to be released. Farden said earlier in the week the conference has a tentative schedule in place, but that it needed to finalize the scheduling before anything would be released.