Eaker, O’Keefe scored perfect 10s to send the Red Rocks to the 46th nationals in a row

No. 4 Red Rocks Celebrate After Winning Seattle’s Regional Finals Saturday, April 2, 2022 (Utah Athletics)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – Just seconds before she stepped off the bar, Alexia Burch could not hold a balance check.

The supersenior came out of the beam and recorded a score of 9,175, leaving No. 4 Red Rocks with little room for error in the final rotation of Seattle’s regional finals at the Alaska Airlines Arena on Saturday night. Two nights ago in the regional semi-final, Burch was a key factor in the Red Rocks advancing to the final – mistakes are made.

Another shot at the bar and the Red Rocks would miss their 46th national championship appearance in a row – a national record.

Senior Cristal Isa was next time taking a few deep breaths before starting her routine; she was responsible for resetting the tone of the team. Moments later, Isa maintained her landing on an almost flawless routine, and the judges gave her a 9,975 – talk of momentum swing.

The Red Rocks were not finished yet.

With no apparent stress on her shoulders, freshman Kara Eaker performed a flawless routine, recording her first 10.0 in her short career. But even with the perfect score, it was up to Maile O’Keefe to deliver with the Red Rocks in third place. It was all up to O’Keefe.

“I was just going to do a normal routine – obviously easier said than done under pressure – but I knew that if I just trusted myself and used my breathing, I would manage,” O’Keefe said.

And a “normal routine” for O’Keefe has typically been perfection. The Las Vegas junior did just that and recorded his third 10.0 score on the beam of the season as the Red Rocks reached past No. 5 in Alabama to win the regional final with a postseason all-time school record of 198,200. The Red Rocks join Alabama (198,175) from the Seattle region to advance nationals.

“I was shaking in my boots,” O’Keefe said of the moment just before her performance. “I trust myself, of course I was just nervous and I think it’s okay because I feel like it means I worry.”

Regional opponents No. 12 Michigan State (197,650) and the Cinderella team from Stanford (49,225), which were to compete in three meetings in four days, fought with dignity and kept the regional final close to the bitter end.

“It just says a lot about where our sport is,” said Utah head coach Tom Farden. “Margins are just so narrow now, which is just reaching Elite Eight.

“You have to be close to flawless to get in on the last day. And then to pile up, I mean, you know, Alabama was incredible, too. So this was just another kid burner, and we had a just get here, and then we had one more just to get here, and then, I mean, you can see across the country how tight things are. “

The Red Rocks join Alabama, Florida (198,775), Oklahoma (198,250), Michigan (197,800), Auburn (197,775), Minnesota (197,725) and Missouri (197,425) on nationals 14-16. April in Fort Worth, Texas.

Two nights after the Red Rocks needed a solid beam performance to reach the final, the energy level of the team was different on Saturday – in a positive way. The Red Rocks started again on the floor and started with a bang when Abby Paulson, who was reinstated in the row after a recent back injury that kept her out of the semifinals, started with a score of 9.90.

It was the only event for Paulson, but it was exactly what the team needed to kick the tournament off. Jaylene Gilstrap and Jaedyn Rucker followed up with their own back-to-back scores before Grace McCallum hit a 9,950 and O’Keefe scored another 9.90. Super senior Sydney Soloski, who had an uncharacteristic step off the field on his first pass on Thursday, scored 9,950 in the anchor position.

It was good enough for the Red Rocks to take an early 0.100 lead over Alabama after the first rotation.

The Red Rocks scored a 49,400 score on volts, which included a 9.90 score from Rucker and Burch before a 9,925 score by McCallum, and a 49,475 on bars. McCallum hit a team score of 9,950 on poles – a major setback after her fall from poles on Thursday.

Alabama was a worthy enemy and withdrew in the lead after the third rotation with a lead of 148,525-148,475 over the Red Rocks. The Crimson Tide could smell a nation’s performance going into the final rotation.

But once again, the Red Rocks’ beam team delivered when it mattered most. And the team continues its 46-straight national championship appearance live for another season.

“The size of 46 in a row, we just take it one season at a time and one preseason at a time and one Christmas break at a time,” Farden said. “I know what the banners represent, but I try not to get too entangled in it and train each team according to their needs. And this team had different needs and last year’s, and so it’s always an experiment.”

“It’s not when you want to peak, we want to peak in two weeks,” O’Keefe said. “So of course we still have room for improvement. So I feel that’s a good thing.”

The Red Rocks want their work cut out for them, but they have two weeks to prepare for yet another national appearance.

The team scores

Nr. 4 Utah

  • Floor (49,600)
  • Vault (99,000, 49,400)
  • Bars (148,475, 49,475)
  • Beam (198,200, 49,725)

Nr. 5 Alabama

  • Vault (49,500)
  • Bars (98,900, 49,400)
  • Beam (148,525, 49,625)
  • Floor (198,175, 49,600)

Nr. 12 Michigan State

  • Bars (49,275)
  • Beam (98,700, 49,425)
  • Floor (148,250, 49,550)
  • Vault (197,650, 49,400)

Stanford

  • Beam (49,275)
  • Floor (98,725, 49,450)
  • Vault (148,025, 49,300)
  • Bars (197,250, 49,225)

Individual Red Rock scores

1st rotation: floor (49,600)

  • Abby Paulson: 9,900
  • Jaylene Gilstrap: 9,900
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9,900
  • Grace McCallum: 9,950
  • Mail O’Keefe: 9,900
  • Sydney Soloski: 9,950

2nd rotation: Vault (49,400)

  • Maile O’Keefe: 9,875
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9,800
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9,900
  • Alexia Burch: 9,900
  • Grace McCallum: 9,925
  • Cammy Hall: 9,800

3rd rotation: columns (49,475)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9,875
  • Grace McCallum: 9,950
  • Alexia Burch: 9,900
  • Sage Thompson: 9,850
  • Mail O’Keefe: 9,725
  • Cristal Isa: 9,900

4th rotation: beam (49,725)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9,900
  • Adrianne Randall: 9,850
  • Alexia Burch: 9,175
  • Cristal Isa: 9,975
  • Kara Eaker: 10.0
  • Mail O’Keefe: 10.0

Josh is the sporting director of KSL.com and the beat writer for the University of Utah athletics – primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 pick for college football.

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