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SALT LAKE CITY — It was just not fifth-ranked Utah's night.
In the first true road meet of the season against the reigning national champions Oklahoma on ESPN, the Red Rocks weren't up for the challenge and dropped their first meet of the season.
Despite several missteps along the way, Utah managed to tie its season-opening score of 197.275 in a loss to Oklahoma, who finished with a 197.925 score. Oklahoma's score tied its previous season high.
"We really felt like the athletes were prepared going into this meet," Utah head coach Tom Farden said. "We definitely felt that nerves had a lot to play with some of the performance that we saw — extremely uncharacteristics.
"We're gonna go back to work and tweak some things and get them a little sharper."
No. 1 Oklahoma had no problem in the spotlight and came out swinging to open up the meet a season after claiming the 2022 title. Danielle Sievers set the tone early in the leadoff position and stuck a near flawless vault. The judges awarded her a 9.950 score, and the Sooners were off and running.
Gymnast after gymnast got a stick on vault, and Oklahoma pulled away for an opening event 49.650 team score.
Utah couldn't have done worse in the opening event and scored a season-low 49.150 on bars. No gymnast scored higher than a 9.875 as the Red Rocks had several missteps along the way. Sage Thompson failed to get up to her final handstand, Grace McCallum's foot hit the low bar on a transition to the high bar, and the sticks weren't clean.
All in all it was little things that compounded on one another to set a shaky tone for the visiting team in a hostile environment.
"We're human, we're not robots, we make mistakes, and that's OK," senior Abby Brenner said. "It's our first away meet, so we really had to dip our toes in. Obviously, we're a little disappointed with how the entire meet went out, but it's Week 3. We've got a lot of growth to keep going; it's a long season."
Utah bounced back in the second rotation on vault, a traditionally weak event for the team over the last few seasons. Instead, the event turned into a team strength against the Sooners.
Jillian Hoffman opened up the event with a 9.825 on a Yurchenko full that holds a 9.950 start value, and Utah went to work to cut into Oklahoma's early lead. In the fourth position, freshman Makenna Smith scored a 9.950 after a stuck landing that straddled the line, and it was followed up by NCAA vault champion Jaedyn Rucker's 9.975 that got a 10.0 from one judge.
McCallum anchored the vault and scored a 9.90 but had a step forward to deduct from her score. But it was good enough to give the team a season-high 49.525 on vault in another sign of improvement for the event this season.
"Vault was incredible, and hats off to the vault team and Jimmy what he's doing over there; I mean, it's just incredible, in terms of that's a very elite score early in the season," Farden said.
"We wanted to show everyone that this is a strong event for us now, and we just kind of wanted to build momentum," Brenner said. "We kind of got all the shakes out and everyone took a deep breath and just gave it our all on that event. And I think that's really what we channeled and really helped us."
On floor, Utah took another step back and finished with a season-low 49.200 score after two gymnasts, Kara Eaker and Rucker, scored under a 9.725. McCallum picked up some ground in the anchor spot with a 9.925, but it was too little, too late for the Red Rocks against an Oklahoma team that grew its lead.
Utah salvaged the meet with good but not great beam performance that was a season low, but it was good enough to keep the Red Rocks above the 197 line.
Amelie Morgan settled in nicely in the leadoff spot with a 9.90 score, but McCallum couldn't get the connection on her tricks after some flawless wolf turns and was forced to settle with a 9.775 score, which Utah had to count because Abby Paulson fell off the beam and scored a 9.075 in the third spot.
After her stumble on floor, Eaker came out strong on beam with a graceful routine that got her a 9.90. It was followed up by Cristal Isa's 9.850 — a bit low after a balance check — and Maile O'Keefe's near perfect 9.975 score to closeout the event.
"We would have a couple of good routines, and then we would take a step back; and a couple of good routines and take a step back," Farden said. "And it was almost — we felt like we were starting and stopping and just not building off of each other, and that's characteristic of routine confidence and building routines and feeding off each other. And we weren't quite there."
Red Rocks team scores
1st Rotation: Bars (49.150)
- Amelie Morgan: 9.825
- Abby Brenner: 9.850
- Sage Thompson: 9.675
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.850
- Cristal Isa: 9.875
- Grace McCallum: 9.750
2nd Rotation: Vault (49.525)
- Jillian Hoffman: 9.825
- Abby Brenner: 9.875
- Lucy Stanhope: 9.800
- Makenna Smith: 9.950
- Jaedyn Rucker: 9.975
- Grace McCallum: 9.900
3rd Rotation: Floor (49.200)
- Abby Paulson: 9.825
- Makenna Smith: 9.875
- Kara Eaker: 9.675
- Jaylene Gilstrap: 9.850
- Jaedyn Rucker: 9.725
- Grace McCallum: 9.925
4th Rotation: Beam (49.400)
- Amelie Morgan: 9.900
- Grace McCallum: 9.775
- Abby Paulson: 9.075
- Kara Eaker: 9.900
- Cristal Isa: 9.850
- Maile O'Keefe: 9.975