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Eaker scores 10.0 on beam as No. 6 Red Rocks roll to win in Best of Utah meet


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WEST VALLEY CITY β€” As Kara Eaker prepared for the balance beam on Friday night, it was understandable for the sophomore gymnast to think back to a year ago when she sustained an injury during the Best of Utah quad meet at the Maverik Center that kept her out for much of the season.

Eaker exhibitioned on floor on the first event of the night, but had to wait until the final rotation to be included in the official lineup.

The wait was well worth it.

In the fourth position, following already great scores by Amelie Morgan (9.875), Grace McCallum (9.925) and Abby Paulson (9.90), Eaker showed no signs of fear or a remembrance of last season's injury. What followed was a perfect routine in the judge's eyes, who gave Eaker her first 10.0 of the season, and the first for the Red Rocks this year.

The former alternate in the most recent summer Olympics performed a graceful routine that ended with a stuck landing and a crowd of about 6,000 people exploding in cheers with the stick. When the judges both flashed 10.0 scores, the crowd erupted and gave the sophomore a standing ovation in the pinnacle moment of the night.

"It was really exciting," Eaker said. "I just went up there wanting to do my personal best and just focus on kind of controlling what I could do and just let everything else happen."

Eaker topped the scores, but it was just one of many strong beam performances from the Red Rocks, who continue to show how their beam team will be tough to beat this season. Cristal Isa followed it up with a 9.90 and Maile O'Keefe rounded out the scores with a 9.950 to give the team a 49.675 team score in the end. The score was just 0.050 off from last season's high of 49.725 on beam.

Utah remains a beam team.

"I don't know what to say about balance beam, because it's probably the best balance beam I've β€” I keep saying that every year β€” but it's pretty incredible," Utah head coach Tom Farden said. "I mean, it's jaw dropping. I don't know how else to describe it besides poetry."

Utah didn't need such a dominant performance to cement a win in the Best of Utah meet against BYU, Southern Utah and Utah State, but it put the final stamp on the program's dominance in state. The Red Rocks took a 0.350 lead after the opening rotation, but grew its lead after every rotation to finish with a 197.750 all-around score.

Southern Utah checked in at second place with a final score of 196.175, followed by Utah State's 195.800 and BYU's 195.050.

"I did think we were more crisp in several areas this week," Farden said. "I did think we were better in a lot of areas this week. So it showed and I was pleased with that. As far as the jump, we actually feel this team is very, very good. We're still not there, we still have more room to grow, and so we'll keep chipping away at this."

Though Eaker stole the show, it was McCallum who finished strong in the final two events of the night and showed why she remains one of Utah's best gymnasts on a team of stars. McCallum won the all-around with a score of 39.675, but narrowly missed out on getting two perfect 10.0 scores on bars and beam.

McCallum was the anchor on bars in the third rotation and put together what appeared to be a flawless routine that was capped off by a stuck landing. The crowd knew it was special and awaited with anxious anticipation for a high score β€” the coveted 10.0. One judge obliged and gave the perfect score, while the other saw it as nearly perfect and scored it a 9.950.

It was a great score in the anchor position to give the team a 49.350, but it was hard to argue that McCallum deserved any deductions for her routine.

"There's always little areas where I can improve on, like toes or knees or whatever, but I mean, yeah, I was a little sad," McCallum said. "I was like, that judge thought it was good. So, I mean, I was proud of myself and I'm really grateful for the score I got, but I was so close."

"Her second transition I could see where they would, potentially, have some room for some things, but I was pretty impressed with her routine,' Farden added. "I think her circling skills are getting better this year. We've been addressing that all through the offseason and into the season, so I actually think the fluidity of her bars are even better than last year."

McCallum capped off the event, but it was freshman Makenna Smith that got the team started with a 9.875 in another strong performance in her second meet with the team. It wasn't the strongest event, or an area where Utah feels satisfied, but the team improved from a Week 1 score.

"A little too anxious on bars and not quite what we saw in practice, but sufficient and, obviously, highlighted by McKenna's start and Grace's end," Farden said. "So bookend that in that event."

Though not a competitive event in terms of challenging the team from its competitors, the Red Rocks pick up a quality road score for its NQS rating that will take effect later in the season and will be important as the team looks improve its scores before regionals.

"I feel like we just had a very calm energy the whole meet throughout warm ups and competition, and I think that really helps the overall team and how we do our gymnastics, because we feel more calm going into it," McCallum said. "And just the amount of support we have this year is unreal. You know you can go up there and every teammate has your back, which is really nice."

Team scores

No. 6 Utah

  • Floor (49.375)
  • Vault (98.725, 49.350)
  • Bars (148.075, 49.350)
  • Beam (197.750, 49.675)

No. 22 Southern Utah

  • Beam (48.850)
  • Floor (98.200, 48.850)
  • Vault (147.025, 48.825)
  • Bars (196.175, 49.150)

Utah State

  • Bars (49.025)
  • Beam (98.050, 49.025)
  • Floor (147.075, 49.025)
  • Vault (195.800, 48.625)

BYU

  • Vault (48.800)
  • Bars (97.975, 49.175)
  • Beam (146.175, 48.200)
  • Floor (195.050, 48.875)

Red Rocks team scores

1st Rotation: Floor (49.375)

  • Abby Paulson: 9.775
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.850
  • Makenna Smith: 9.850
  • Grace McCallum: 9.925
  • Jaylene Gilstrap: 9.900
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.850

2nd Rotation: Vault (49.350)

  • Jillian Hoffman: 9.800
  • Abby Brenner: 9.825
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9.900
  • Makenna Smith: 9.850
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.925
  • Grace McCallum: 9.850

3rd Rotation: Bars (49.350)

  • Makenna Smith: 9.875
  • Abby Brenner: 9.850
  • Sage Thompson: 9.800
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.800
  • Cristal Isa: 9.850
  • Grace McCallum: 9.975

4th Rotation: Beam (49.675)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.875
  • Grace McCallum: 9.925
  • Abby Paulson: 9.900
  • Kara Eaker: 10.0
  • Cristal Isa: 9.900
  • Maile O'Keefe: 9.950

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

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