SALT LAKE CITY — For the first two rotations of Friday night's meet against No. 9 California at the Huntsman Center, the No. 4 Red Rocks couldn't get into a solid groove.
It's not that Utah struggled, it's just that everything was forced. No Utah gymnast scored above a 9.875 and the team wasn't hitting on its routines like in previous meets. Utah head coach Tom Farden said his gymnasts were trying to force their sticks a little too much and needed to "let them happen a little bit more."
California, however, came out with nothing to lose and proved why it's ranked in the top 10. The Golden Bears controlled a 0.050 lead after the first two rotations and looked ready to upset the Red Rocks on their home floor.
But then Cristal Isa stepped up to the balance beam.
The junior from Henderson, Nevada, showed poise and confidence to shake off an early lackluster start and landed a 9.950 score — a season high and tie for career high — to set the tone and shift the momentum for the entire meet.
"After Cristal hit her beam routine, the energy exploded, I think, within the team and within the Huntsman," said sophomore Maile O'Keefe, who won the night's all around with a 39.525 score. "It was just a really nice boost to our energy."
After Isa, there was a no holding Utah back as the Red Rocks exploded and turned the momentum in their favor to eventually claim a 197.375-197.125 win over the visiting Golden Bears.
"I feel like at the beginning of the meet we were just really nervous because Cal is an amazing school and we knew that they were going to bring their A game and we thought we had to force our A game and we were going to be perfect," Isa said. "But a big thing this week has just been trust, and we didn't really trust each other — well, ourselves — at the beginning. But once we got to beam, I feel like we got a feel of everything and really made a comeback."
After Isa, Abby Paulson followed it up with a back-to-back 9.950 score and O'Keefe flirted with perfection with a 9.975 score in the anchor position to give Utah (8-1, 5-0) a 49.500 beam score to flip the advantage to Utah by 0.250 after the third rotation (147.925-147.675), which ultimately turned out to be for the win.
The final rotation was merely a formality.
"It's kind of funny, this team was behind for two rotations and — similar things happened at Arizona State — and then they just come out and start hitting their routines like they can do in practice," Farden said. "I think it was a mindset. A few of them do look at the scores, and obviously they're announcing the scores in the arena. If the athletes wanted this win they were going to have to be aggressive and determined on that event, which they were."
"I think we're definitely a team that likes pressure and we just are a team that rises to the occasion," Isa said. "I think when we really like buckle down and move toward something, we can get a lot done."
The final rotation for the Red Rocks was no less impressive.
Jaylene Gilstrap opened up the floor with a rousing 9.850 score to set the tone for the final build up to the night. Her routine was followed by back-to-back 9.850 scores from Paulson and Lucy Stanhope before Jaedyn Rucker demonstrated her emerging talent with an event-winning 9.950, which is a career-high for the sophomore gymnast.
O'Keefe recorded a 9.875 score in the fifth position, shaking off a 9.750 score last week against UCLA on floor, before Sydney Soloski delivered another solid routine (9.925) in the anchor position to secure the win for the Red Rocks with a 49.450 floor score. California (4-2, 4-2) ended the meet with an identical 49.450 score on beam and couldn't overcome Utah's beam performance.
"It's good to know that even if we're in like a drought, or we're down, we can always just pick ourselves up and do our gymnastics," O'Keefe said.
The Red Rocks close out their Pac-12 slate Friday on the road against Oregon State.
1st Rotation: Vault
- Cristal Isa: 9.775
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.800
- Cammy Hall: 9.875
- Lucy Stanhope: 9.875
- Jaedyn Rucker: 9.825
- Alexia Burch: 9.800
2nd Rotation: Bars
- Abby Paulson: 9.800
- Alani Sabado: 9.800
- Alexia Burch: 9.850
- Emilie LeBlanc: 9.875
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.875
- Cristal Isa: 9.875
3rd Rotation: Beam
- Alexia Burch: 9.750
- Lucy Stanhope: 9.800
- Cristal Isa: 9.950
- Abby Paulson: 9.950
- Adrienne Randall: 9.825
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.975
4th Rotation: Floor
- Jaylene Gilstrap: 9.850
- Abby Paulson: 9.850
- Lucy Stanhope: 9.850
- Jaedyn Rucker: 9.950
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.875
- Sydney Soloski: 9.925