SALT LAKE CITY — If ever there were a time when a win could feel like a loss, that time came Friday night for the No. 5 Red Rocks in the team's regular-season finale at the Huntsman Center.
Sure, the Red Rocks cruised to an easy 197.275-196.500 victory over the visiting No. 20 Utah State Aggies, but it was anything but what Utah has come to expect over the season, particularly a week after coming off a season-high score against Oregon State on the road.
The final score was "so-so" to Utah head coach Tom Farden, who said the meet "caught us by surprise." Utah needed a strong home meet to improve its NQS rating ahead of the Pac-12 Championship, but the night was a struggle from the onset.
"We had a hard time building momentum tonight for sure," he said. "There was a lot of mistakes — there's significant mistakes on every event."
"This was probably our worst team performance," senior Sydney Soloski, who won the floor event with a 9.950 score, said about the night's performance. "This is not an indication of what we are capable of. Our team didn't show up tonight, and it's really disappointing seeing how much hard work is put in the gym and it's not translating over, so we have some stuff to figure out in the next week."
Utah had several falls, stumbles and mistakes, which led to low scores in every event of the night, including a fall on a pass on floor by Cristal Isa to score a 9.200 score, which dropped her all-around to 38.800. Isa was the only Red Rock to compete in the all-around Friday night and took second to Utah State's Leighton Varnadore's 39.200 score.
"I don't think this has anything to do with body rest or anything like that. We are very well conditioned to compete week after week. The way we practice, we gear up at the beginning and we taper two days before, so I think this was 100% a mental mistake," Soloski said. "This was people not having enough heart on the floor, this is people not trusting in their gymnastics, and it's extremely disappointing just because I've watched these kids hit 9.90s in the gym day after day, and it's not happening on the floor."
And though Utah got the win, Farden was disappointed in the performance going into the conference championship meet next Saturday. He said he wasn't sure why the week was off given such a strong practice leading up to the meet and that maybe there was a situation where his gymnasts played down to their opponent.
"Some sports psychologists say you play down to your opponent, and I'm not sure if that was it or if something else was going on."
And though Utah had its struggles, there were some bright spots on the night. Freshman Lucy Stanhope had a career night, scoring career highs in all three events she performed in Friday night — a 9.90 to start the night on vault, a 9.875 on beam, and a 9.90 on floor. It was a redemption night from a week ago.
"What's funny about Lucy is I think she bounced back and wanted this opportunity," Farden said. "Last weekend I don't think it was one of her best performances as a Red Rock and we ended up pulling her from floor exercise — she was slated to go in the all-around last weekend and at the last minute, I pulled her. So she went out there with some fire in her belly and wanted to get some work done. She did have herself a really great night."
The Red Rocks needed only one event to put distance on an up-and-coming Aggies team — a team Utah already beat in its season opener at the Maverik Center in the Best of Utah meet. The Red Rocks took a commanding 49.325-49.000 lead after vault, and the lead grew from there after the following three rotations.
"Not a very impressive performance tonight," Farden said. "I know we came away with the win, but there was way too many mistakes that we left out there.
"We just misfired too many times and I wish I could put my finger on it, believe me," he added. "We're trying as a staff to put our finger on it. We know we've got talented athletes and it's a talented group that we've assembled.
Although not a meet to remember for the Utah gymnasts and the coaches, it was an opportunity to honor outgoing senior Emilie LeBlanc, as well as former Red Rocks Missy Reinstadtler and Kim Tessen, who were shorted a senior night celebration last season due to COVID-19 shutting down the season. LeBlanc competed in one event — uneven bars — where she scored a 9.875 and exhibitioned on beam for the final time of her career.
Utah will compete Saturday, March 20 in the Pac-12 Championship at the Maverik Center in West Valley City.
1st Rotation: Vault
- Cristal Isa: 9.825
- Cammy Hall: 9.175
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.825
- Lucy Stanhope: 9.900
- Jaedyn Rucker: 9.875
- Alexia Burch: 9.900
2nd Rotation: Bars
- Abby Paulson: 9.775
- Alani Sabado: 9.825
- JaedynRucker: 9.725
- Emilie LeBlanc: 9.875
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.900
- Cristal Isa: 9.875
3rd Rotation: Beam
- Alexia Burch: 9.725
- Lucy Stanhope: 9.875
- Cristal Isa: 9.900
- Abby Paulson: 9.900
- Adrienne Randall: 9.825
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.950
4th Rotation: Floor
- Adrienne Randall: 9.650
- Cristal Isa: 9.200
- Abby Paulson: 9.850
- Lucy Stanhope: 9.900
- Jaedyn Rucker: 9.900
- Sydney Soloski: 9.950