SALT LAKE CITY — Coming off its first dual-meet loss in two seasons, the No. 6 Red Rocks bounced back to overwhelm Arizona in the first Pac-12 meet of the 2021 season to claim a 197.075-195.650 win inside an empty Huntsman Center.
"One thing we talked about losing is it leaves you with kind of a bad taste in your mouth, and the fastest way to get rid of it is give it to somebody else," Utah head coach Tom Farden said. "We challenged them to take this opportunity and match it with the gymnastics that they've been doing in practice, and I think they did a good job of that."
The Red Rocks wasted no time in establishing a dominant performance against a young Arizona team that features 15 underclassmen. Sophomore Maile O'Keefe, who won the all-around competition last week against Oklahoma won two events Saturday, opened up the meet for Utah with a 9.750 on vault and the scores only got higher from there.
Lucy Stanhope landed a 9.825 in the third spot and was followed by back-to-back 9.90 scores from Cammy Hall and Alexia Burch before sophomore Jaedyn Rucker, who suffered a season-ended ACL injury last year, closed out the rotation with a 9.875 score to give the Red Rocks an early 49.275-48.950 lead.
The lead only grew from there as Arizona struggled to maintain clean events, including a drop on bars by Mackinzie Kane and several missteps on floor by multiple gymnasts to bring the GymCats' score down to a 48.775 on the event.
"Something that Tom kept reiterating to us this week was work together, work as a team, because if you can work together and work as a team you're going to accomplish your goals," O'Keefe said.
Utah followed up its first rotation with an equally dominate second rotation on bars, where the Red Rocks scored another 49.275 on the event. Abby Paulson, whose score was thrown out as the team's lowest, opened the bars event with a 9.775 score before Alani Sabado upped the competition with a 9.875, followed by a 9.850 by Burch.
But it was O'Keefe in the fourth position who landed a 9.90 score on a difficult double Arabian blind landing that stole the show on the event to keep Utah's scores high and to win her first event of the afternoon. Emilie LeBlanc and Cristal Isa followed with 9.80 and 9.850 scores, respectively to give Utah a 98.550-97.725 lead at the halfway point in the meet.
O'Keefe, who ranks No. 2 nationally on balance beam, followed up her bars performance with another event-winning 9.90 score in the fifth position on beam. Although O'Keefe didn't compete in the all-around, her scores anchored Utah to its first 197 performance of the season.
"Well, I think the 197 mark is something that for us as coaches we know that that's where the bar has been set for the other teams — some other elite teams — and we want to stay in that mix, and so it was great for our athletes to do that," Farden said. "It is important; we don't want to dwell on the scores, we want to dwell on the process and see where that takes us, but it feels good to get one underneath our belt."
"I don't think we're feeling pressured to get the highest scores that we can right now because if you're putting pressure on that, you're not going to reach it," O'Keefe said. "You just have to keep doing your skills and your routines because then it'll happen."
Burch went first on beam and set the tone with a 9.850 score that was eventually followed by a scores of 9.850 by Adrienne Randall, 9.875 by Isa and a 9.725 from Paulson to finish the third rotation with a 147.750-146.500 lead for the Red Rocks.
The fourth rotation was nearly a formality for the Red Rocks, but nobody told Utah. The gymnasts saved their best performance of the afternoon for last and scored a meet-high 49.325.
Our floor queen getting it done!! Sydney Soloski wins her second straight floor title with a 9.925!! pic.twitter.com/6ENkZBdypf— Utah Gymnastics (@UtahGymnastics) January 23, 2021
Freshman Jaylene Gilstrap, who continues to make a strong impression on the team in her first season, opened up the floor event with a tone-setting 9.850. Randall went next in the second spot and finished with 9.825, before Paulson recorded a 9.850 to keep Utah in a strong position. Rucker increased the lead with a 9.875 before senior Sydney Soloski won the night with a meet-ending 9.925 to take the top score of the night and to win the event.
Utah had no gymnasts compete in the all-around competition Saturday, instead elected to preserve the health of Isa and O'Keefe this week.