Sports / U of U / 
Utah Red Rocks’ Maile O’Keefe does her floor routine during a gymnastics meet against the Cal Golden Bears at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. Utah won and O'Keefe was the team’s high scorer.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

No. 6 Red Rocks roll to victory, advance to regional finals with 197.500 score

By Josh Furlong, KSL.com | Posted - Apr. 2, 2021 at 4:08 p.m.



WEST VALLEY CITY — It was a bit of a formality — a warm-up so to speak — for the No. 6 Red Rocks Friday afternoon in the first session of the NCAA's Salt Lake City Regional at the Maverik Center, as Utah cruised to an early-round victory.

The Pac-12 champion Red Rocks won the afternoon session meet with a 197.500 score, its third highest score of the season, and beat out No. 11 Arizona State (196.600), No. 21 Southern Utah (195.975) and No. 17 Boise State (195.825) to advance to the final round of the NCAA's regionals, which will be held Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Maverik Center. Arizona State joins Utah Saturday in the regional final.

Boise State, which held a slight lead over Arizona State (147.500-147.350) after the third rotation and looked to steal a spot from the Sun Devils, struggled to maintain its lead on beam and were forced to count a 9.050 score to pull down the score to land in last place. Arizona State, meanwhile, finished the vault strong for a 49.250 score to pull away for the second spot in Saturday's final.

Sophomore Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year Maile O'Keefe won the first session's all-around competition with a 39.575 score, which is slightly higher than her season average in the all-around competition this year and won the beam event. Arizona State's Hannah Scharf, who won both the floor and vault event, came in second with a 39.425 score.

"Good meet in terms of the results and coming in here and securing the win; obviously, that was important to us because it determines where you start tomorrow," Utah coach Tom Farden said. "We wanted to have a good showing out here."

Utah was anything but perfect, but was consistent enough to move on to the next day when the competition takes a step up as Utah is expected to go head-to-head against LSU in the finals. LSU, which enters regionals as the No. 3 seed, will look for a spot in Saturday's finals during the second session Friday night (7 p.m., ESPN3) against Kentucky, Utah State and Arizona.

"Today our goal was just to stay clean and confident and consistent across the whole meet," Abby Paulson said. "We still have a lot to improve on and more potential in us, but we did what we needed to do to move on to the finals."

"It feels very rewarding. I know today wasn't our best day, but I think we're still really strong," Cristal Isa added. "And for us to have the fans back, it was just so exciting because instead of fake applause or like no applause, we got a little loves — more energy."

The Red Rocks opened up the meet on beam, its strongest event of the season, and landed a 49.550 score to easily put some distance on its competitors. From there, it was all about staying consistent enough to maintain the early lead, which was no problem for Utah despite some low scoring from the judges during the first session.

Alexia Burch kicked off the meet for Utah with a 9.875 score to set the tone, and the scores only grew from there as Cristal Isa followed it up in the third position with a 9.90. Abby Paulson added to it with a 9.925, Adrienne Randall scored a 9.90 and O'Keefe, the No. 2 gymnast on beam in the country, scored a meet high 9.950 in the anchor position for the Red Rocks — at least one judge gave her a perfect 10.0.

Utah built up an .800 lead after the second rotation on floor and kept building from there to finish with nearly a fully point advantage over its closest competitor, Arizona State, by the end.

"One of the things that we want to do is maintain this level and maybe squeeze out a little bit more," Farden said, speaking about what he's looking to get from his team Saturday. "And so the training plan that we put forward was: this is what we prescribed and this is the result we wanted, so we're pleased with that."

Utah gets the rare back-to-back meet treatment at regionals, but Farden and the athletes feel confident in their ability to take a step forward Saturday as the Red Rocks look to advance to their 45th consecutive national championship appearance and claim their 32nd regional title.

"Generally, Day 2 with his team, they've been a little bit sharper, so we're anxious to see if it works," Farden said.

"It's just important to keep the mindset that we do this every day in practice," Paulson added. "We go back-to-back practices, so it's no different coming here and competing back-to-back days, we know how to do it — as long as we keep our head straight and just do our gymnastics."

Assuming Utah pairs up with LSU Saturday, it will be a rematch of sorts for the 2019 Baton Rouge Regional, in which Utah placed second behind a top-seeded LSU. Another opportunity to get after LSU has Utah's attention.

"I think it's always fun competing against LSU because they have such a big name and we're such a big name and everyone's just expecting a great meet, and that's exactly what's gonna happen tomorrow," Isa said. "We are going with the mindset that we are the best team and I think this season has — we've seen so many upsets throughout every conference, and I just think that it's anyone's game."

"I think the athletes remember that, but we do know what's on the line in terms of living to fight another day, and in all reality top two gets us through, but we sure would like to have another, work for and have an opportunity to win another regional crown," Farden said.

Utah and Arizona State will compete with the top two winners from the second session Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Maverik Center. The meet will be broadcast live on ESPN3.

Utah Scores:

1st Rotation: Beam

  • Alexia Burch: 9.875
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9.000
  • Cristal Isa: 9.900
  • Abby Paulson: 9.925
  • Adrienne Randall: 9.900
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.950

2nd Rotation: Floor

  • Adrienne Randall: 9.850
  • Abby Paulson: 9.850
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9.875
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.750
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.900
  • Sydney Soloski: 9.900

3rd Rotation: Vault

  • Cristal Isa: 9.825
  • Cammy Hall: 9.800
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.850
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9.875
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.800
  • Alexia Burch: 9.850

4th Rotation: Bars

  • Abby Paulson: 9.850
  • Alani Sabado: 9.850
  • Alexia Burch: 9.875
  • Emilie LeBlanc: 9.875
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.875
  • Cristal Isa: 9.900

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