Sports / U of U / 
Utah’s Alani Sabado eyes the upper bar during her routine as Utah and Washington compete in an NCAA gymnastics meet at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. No. 4 Utah won 197.475-193.300.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

No. 16 Arizona State records season high, but No. 3 Red Rocks edge out win with another 197 score

By Josh Furlong, | Posted - Feb. 6, 2021 at 4:47 p.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — No. 16 Arizona State wasn't going to go down without a fight Saturday afternoon against the conference-leading No. 3 Red Rocks.

The Sun Devils jumped to an early lead before the Red Rocks settled in to edge past a young Arizona State team and earn a 197.450-197.150 victory and to stay undefeated in conference play. It's the third consecutive 197-score for the Red Rocks this season, just short of last week's season high of 197.475.

Utah (6-1, 3-0) sophomore Maile O'Keefe won the all around with a 39.525 score, narrowly beating out Arizona State's Hannah Scharf's 39.475. It's the second consecutive all-around win and the third overall all-around win for O'Keefe this season. Both athletes were the only ones to compete in the all around for their respective teams.

The Sun Devils (2-3, 1-2) recorded their highest score of the season, beating a previous high of 196.275, that started out with a 15-year high of 49.350 on vault. The last time Arizona State recorded a 49-score on vault was in 2006.

The home team started out with three consecutive personal bests before Scharf and Cairo Leonard-Baker recorded back-to-back 9.90 scores to lift the Sun Devils to an opening event lead.

"Hats off to Arizona State. I thought they came out swinging," Utah head coach Tom Farden said after the meet. "They hadn't gone over 49 on vault and then they threw a nice vault set. ... We definitely could tell that they were bringing some energy and had nothing to lose going against us, but we felt like our athletes responded really well."

Utah opened up the afternoon meet on bars with Abby Paulson starting with an 9.850 to set the tone for the Red Rocks. But Alani Sabado, who went next in the second position, fell on a handstand rotation and scored an eventually thrown out 9.20. Alexia Burch, O'Keefe and Emilie LeBlanc, though, helped stabilize the event with three consecutive 9.825 scores before Cristal Isa finished with a 9.90.

But the Red Rocks still needed to get some work done.

Their next two events — vault and floor — were Utah's strongest and helped them to eventually overcome the early deficit.

Utah scored a season high on vault, its second event of the afternoon, with Isa opening up the event with a 9.850. Her score would eventually be thrown out as the scores continued to improve from there. In the second position, O'Keefe scored a career high 9.90 that was only topped by Alexia Burch's near perfect 9.975 on a Yurchenko 1.5 twist.

The high score gave Burch the win on vault and anchored a 49.475 score for Utah.

Utah narrowly trailed 98.725-98.700 after the second rotation but established its dominance in the third rotation on floor. Freshman Jaedyn Rucker (9.90) and O'Keefe (9.925) scored career highs on back-to-back routines in the fourth and fifth spot before senior Sydney Soloski anchored the event with a 9.90 to give the Red Rocks its first lead of the afternoon.

Farden said he could feel the "momentum was building" after the first rotation and it was the two interior events that were "by far our strongest."

"Vault and floor were incredible," he said.

But the defining, or "separator" event, Farden said, was Utah's final event: beam. The Red Rocks rank second nationally in beam and managed a 49.325 score despite some stumbles along the way, including a season-low 9.875 for O'Keefe, who stumbled on a layout. It was her first sub 9.90 score on the event this season.

Paulson, who opened up the meet for Utah, closed the event with a strong routine capped off on a side aerial full twist dismount for a 9.950 score in the anchor position. Utah's counted scores were no worse than a 9.825 from Lucy Stanhope — her debut on the event — and Isa, and a 9.825 and a 9.850 from Burch.

"We really felt like beam was going to be a separator," Farden. "If you look at things, it definitely was a separator in this meet in our athletes being able to handle the beam — our staff is super pleased with that. And then Lucy Stanhope, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention her, it was her debut today. (She) did a really nice job and you can see a lot of potential — we can all see a lot of potential with her."

The road win was vital for the Red Rocks, who lost an important scoring opportunity from next week's Stanford meet that was canceled earlier in the week.

"It's hard to win on the road," Farden said. "You've got to be really impressive to win in somebody else's arena. Arizona State has done a good job of recruiting and even maybe an even better job coaching."


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