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No. 4 Red Rocks dominate in 'Best of Utah' win as Kara Eaker suffers injury

The University of Utah celebrates winning the Rio Tinto Best of Utah NCAA gymnastics meet against Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Southern Utah University at the Maverik Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022.

The University of Utah celebrates winning the Rio Tinto Best of Utah NCAA gymnastics meet against Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Southern Utah University at the Maverik Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)


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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

WEST VALLEY CITY — Looking to show its improved talent and depth, Tom Farden threw out three freshman — all Olympians — to start off the Best of Utah meet at the Maverik Center Friday night.

Farden called it a sort of baptism by fire situation for Amelie Morgan, Grace McCallum and Kara Eaker, who started out on beam. They're all proven winners on the international stage, so the first meet of the year certainly wasn't going to be a challenge.

"I've had a lot of people kind of say to me, 'You've competed in the Olympics, surely you're not going to be nervous in this,'" Morgan said. "It's a very like different experience — a good different — but I definitely felt pressure."

Pressure or not, the decision paid off as the three set the tone for Utah's first meet of the 2022 season.

The trio each scored a 9.875 on beam and the No. 4 Red Rocks were off and running. Senior Cristal Isa topped the score on the event with a 9.90 score on a low-scoring night from the judges as Utah took an early lead over BYU, Southern Utah and Utah State.

That lead never diminished as the Red Rocks continued to show why they're a national championship contender following a third-place finish last year. In the end, Utah won the night with an all-around score of 197.100 to top Utah State (195.875), BYU (195.225) and Southern Utah (195,000) in dominating fashion.

There were mistakes — falls on beam and bars and a step out of bounds on floor — but the early-season meet with little at risk was a success.

"It's always nice to have a starting place," Maile O'Keefe said. "You don't want to start off perfect because then there's only so much room to grow from. So I feel like even though we didn't hit all of our routines, it's a nice place to start because then you can only get better."

And though a victory was never in doubt, the Red Rocks suffered some early adversity and were forced to tap into their depth after the second rotation.

As the team was going through warmups on vault, freshman Kara Eaker, a Team USA alternate during the Summer Olympics, slipped on her vault attempt and hit her head on the vaulting table before she was able to push off for a slight flip to her feet. She immediately fell to her hands and knees and stayed there in obvious discomfort.

Coaches immediately ran to her aid as she stayed put as they checked on her. Eaker was able to get off the podium on her own accord and was scratched from the event, but Farden said he didn't know her condition after the meet and said she was taken to the doctor to get checked out.

"We'll see what they say," Farden said. "But it's one of those fluke things. You watch gymnastics and everybody here knows that — they say football is a game of inches, gymnastics is a game of millimeters. And so if you're off by a millimeter in gymnastics, it can be a big difference in the outcome.

"I'm devastated for Kara and obviously we're going to have to test our depth and figure some things out on three events. This is an athlete that's an Olympic level athlete and a double world champion, and they just don't come around. It's devastating for them."

Even with Eaker out of the lineup, the vault was one of Utah best events on the night, rounding out the third rotation with a 49.325 event score and a 147.875 all-around score at the time.

Utah finished the night on uneven bars, where silver medalist Grace McCallum had a rare stumble and dropped off the bars following a transfer to the lower bar. McCallum was the only Utes gymnast to compete in the all-around, but the stumble knocked her out of contention, though she scored 38.950.

"We wanted to get this first meet under their belt," Farden said. "I really feel like if this team could just settle down a little bit — they almost get a little too high strung because they're all — it's a team of perfectionist. Some of the mistakes I felt we made tonight was to try and be too perfect."

Utah State's Rebecca Wells won the all-around with a score of 39.125. The Aggies' all-around score of 195.875 was the highest season-opening score in school history.

"I'm just proud of the team. I'm proud of what they went out there and did," Utah State head coach Amy Smith said. "They did what we asked them to do. It wasn't perfect, but they battled through and kept the energy up. I'm really excited about this year and this team."

"This meet was super fun," Wells said. "As a team, we all went out there and did our job. This was the first year that everything came together at the first meet. I'm super excited to see us continue to build this year. My individual performance felt pretty good. I still have a lot of things to work on, but, overall, it's coming together."

The Red Rocks return to action Friday (7:30 p.m. MST, ESPN2) as they host No. 3 Oklahoma in a top-five regular-season matchup at the Huntsman Center. The Sooners are the reigning national champions.

Team scores

Utah: 197.100

  • Beam: 49.375
  • Floor: 49.175
  • Vault: 49.325
  • Bars: 49.225

Utah State: 195.875

  • Vault: 48.825
  • Bars: 48.725
  • Beam: 49.100
  • Floor: 49.100

BYU: 195.225

  • Floor: 48.775
  • Vault: 48.575
  • Bars: 49.000
  • Beam: 48.875

Southern Utah: 195.000

  • Bars: 49.125
  • Beam: 48.325
  • Floor: 48.525
  • Vault: 48.950

Red Rocks individual scores

1st Rotation: Beam (49.375)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.875
  • Grace McCallum: 9.875
  • Kara Eaker: 9.875
  • Cristal Isa: 9.90
  • Abby Paulson: 9.425
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.850

2nd Rotation: Floor (49.175)

  • Abby Paulson: 9.875
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9.625
  • Grace McCallum: 9.850
  • Kara Eaker: 9.80
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.825
  • Sydney Soloski: 9.825

3rd Rotation: Vault (49.325)

  • Jillian Hoffman: 9.80
  • Cammy Hall: 9.850
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9.80
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.90
  • Alexia Burch: 9.850
  • Grace McCallum: 9.90

4th Rotation: Bars (49.225)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.825
  • Sage Thompson: 9.80
  • Abby Paulson: 9.850
  • Grace McCallum: 9.325
  • Cristal Isa: 9.875
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.875

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