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Red Rocks place 2nd at semifinals, advance to national championship meet

Utah’s Jaylene Gilstrap celebrates after performing her floor routine during the Pac-12 women’s gymnastics championship at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, March 19, 2022.

Utah’s Jaylene Gilstrap celebrates after performing her floor routine during the Pac-12 women’s gymnastics championship at the Maverik Center in West Valley City on Saturday, March 19, 2022. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Red Rocks are not done yet.

And with a national championship hanging in the balance, Utah has positioned itself to compete for another title as the Red Rocks qualified for the Final Four of the women's gymnastics national championship.

The Red Rocks held a 0.1375 lead over third-place Alabama heading into the final rotation of the first session meet at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday. But as the Red Rocks showcased why it leads the country on beam, Alabama faltered on vault and Utah claimed one of two spots available in the Final Four.

Oklahoma, which entered the first session ranked No. 1 in the country, had little trouble claiming the other spot to join Utah in Saturday's final meet. The Sooners won the meet with a 198.1125 team score, followed by Utah (197.7125), Minnesota (197.1125) and Alabama (197.1000).

Oklahoma and Utah await the final two opponents of the national championship meet, which will be decided Thursday night. The four remaining teams vying for a spot in that meet (4 p.m. MDT, ESPN2) include No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Auburn and No. 11 Missouri.

The Red Rocks set the tone early on floor and never looked back Thursday afternoon.

Abby Paulson led off on floor and recorded a 9.850, and the scores only grew from there, with Grace McCallum (9.9375) and Sydney Soloski (9.9125) leading the team in the first rotation. Soloski didn't know it at the end of her routine, but with the Red Rocks moving on to Saturday's meet, she gets one final time to lay it all out on the floor for the team.

By the end of the first rotation, the Red Rocks held a 49.4750-49.3500 lead over Oklahoma — and everything appeared to be going Utah's way.

That rang even more true when a sometimes shaky vault event turned into a strength Thursday. Maile O'Keefe opened up the second rotation with a 9.825 and a near stuck landing; and once again, the scores continued to grow from there. The event was topped with a meet-high 9.9625 score from Jaedyn Rucker in the third position.

Rucker, who had some struggles earlier in the year on the event, didn't give the judges anything to critique as she perfectly stuck her landing. She exploded with joy as the realization of the moment hit, and her teammates were there to celebrate the success.

Super senior Alexia Burch, who followed Rucker, had a stuck landing of her own to record a 9.925 and improve the team's score on vault. The Red Rocks finished with a 49.425 score on vault, but Oklahoma surged to the top of the leaderboard after recording a 49.575 on bars. It was a lead the Sooners never gave up as the team continued to build through the remaining events.

Though everything had been going well for the Red Rocks to the midpoint of the meet, adversity hit in the third rotation when the team left several points on the board on bars. British Olympian Amelie Morgan opened up the event with a solid 9.875 and a stuck landing, but McCallum (9.725) followed with a low landing where she was forced to take a big step to keep herself from going to the ground.

In the fourth and fifth spot, Sage Thompson and O'Keefe recorded back-to-back 9.90 scores to give the Red Rocks some much-needed points. Both stuck their landings, including on O'Keefe's blind double Arabian. Often O'Keefe gets a little too high and she's forced to take a step to stabilize once she hits the ground. But there were no steps Thursday, much to her excitement.

Cristal Isa looked to closeout the event in the anchor position with one of her usually flawless routines, but the senior got a little sideways on her final rotation of the bar ahead of her dismount and she was forced to take a hop forward on her landing. Her 9.70 score was dropped, but it left Utah with a thin margin heading into the final rotation of the night.

But if there was any event the Red Rocks wanted to finish on, it was beam. Utah ranked No. 1 for much of the season on the event, and few in the country can compete with its lineup. Meanwhile, Alabama needed to finish strong on vault for any chance to overtake Utah and claim a spot in the Final Four.

Alabama, which ranked fifth in the country on vault, had an off day and stumbled through the event. Three of the team's six competing gymnasts recorded a score lower than a 9.80, including a 9.775 from Kaylee Quinn, a 9.7625 from Jordyn Paradise, and a 9.70 from Lilly Hudson, to push Alabama to last place in the meet.

The Red Rocks didn't need their best, but they needed to stay upright. Fortunately for the team, Morgan started off the event with a 9.90 score and stuck landing to set the tone. Three of Utah's remaining five gymnasts then scored a 9.9375 to tie with Minnesota's Lexy Ramler and Alabama's Luisa Blanco for the best score of the night on the event.

Paulson was the first to hit the high mark in her return to the beam team after a back issue held her out of the first night of regionals. And then Kara Eaker and O'Keefe closed out the meet with a 9.9375 score of their own in back-to-back sticks. O'Keefe had a bit of a balance check midway through her routine, but she still managed to keep a high score.

The drama of the meet wasn't as dramatic as the regional final, but the beam team was no less instrumental in the Red Rocks advancing to the next stage of competition.

The national championship meet will take place Saturday at 11 a.m. MDT and will be broadcast on ABC.

Team scores

No. 1 Oklahoma

  • Vault (49.3500)
  • Bars (98.9250, 49.5750)
  • Beam (148.4375, 49.5125)
  • Floor (198.1125, 49.6750)

No. 4 Utah

  • Floor (49.4750)
  • Vault (98.9000, 49.4250)
  • Bars (148.1125, 49.2125)
  • Beam (197.7125, 49.6000)

No. 8 Minnesota

  • Beam (48.9750)
  • Floor (98.4750, 49.5000)
  • Vault (147.7250, 49.2500)
  • Bars (197.1125, 49.3875)

No. 5 Alabama

  • Bars (49.2000)
  • Beam (98.5250, 49.3250)
  • Floor (147.9750, 49.4500)
  • Vault (197.1000, 49.1250)

Individual Red Rocks scores

1st Rotation: Floor (49.4750)

  • Abby Paulson: 9.850
  • Jaylene Gilstrap: 9.825
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.8875
  • Grace McCallum: 9.9375
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.8875
  • Sydney Soloski: 9.9125

2nd Rotation: Vault (49.4250)

  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.8250
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9.8500
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.9625
  • Alexia Burch: 9.9250
  • Grace McCallum: 9.8625
  • Cammy Hall: 9.8000

3rd Rotation: Bars (49.2125)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.8750
  • Grace McCallum: 9.7250
  • Abby Paulson: 9.8125
  • Sage Thompson: 9.9000
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.9000
  • Cristal Isa: 9.7000

4th Rotation: Beam (49.6000)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.9000
  • Grace McCallum: 9.8875
  • Abby Paulson: 9.9375
  • Cristal Isa: 9.8750
  • Kara Eaker: 9.9375
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.9375

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer of University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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