Red Rocks places 2nd at the semifinals, advancing to the national championships

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

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – The Red Rocks are not finished yet.

And with a national championship hanging in the balance, Utah has positioned itself to compete for yet another title as the Red Rocks qualified for the Final Four of the National Women’s Gymnastics Championships.

The Red Rocks had a 0.1375 lead over third-place Alabama heading into the final rotation of the first session meeting at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, on Thursday. But when the Red Rocks showed why it leads the country on the bar, Alabama staggered on the vault, and Utah claimed one of two available spots in the Final Four.

Oklahoma, which went into the first session ranked No. 1 in the country, had little trouble claiming second place to join Utah in Saturday’s final meet. The Sooners won the tournament with a team score of 198.1125, followed by Utah (197.7125), Minnesota (197.1125) and Alabama (197.1000).

Oklahoma and Utah await the final two opponents of the national championship, which will be decided Thursday night. The four remaining teams vying for a spot in that meeting (16:00 MDT, ESPN2) include No. 2 Florida, No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Auburn and No. 11 Missouri.

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

Abby Paulson started on the floor, scoring 9,850, and the score only grew from where Grace McCallum (9.9375) and Sydney Soloski (9.9125) led the team in the first rotation. Soloski did not know it at the end of her routine, but as the Red Rocks advance to Saturday’s meet, she gets one last time to lay it all out on the floor for the team.

By the end of the first rotation, the Red Rocks had a 49.4750-49.3500 lead over Oklahoma – and everything seemed to be going Utah’s way.

That was even more true when a sometimes shocking volt event turned into a strength Thursday. Maile O’Keefe opened the second rotation with a 9,825 and a landing almost solid; and once again the scores continued to grow from there. The event topped off with a meet-high 9.9625 score from Jaedyn Rucker in third place.

Rucker, who had some issues earlier in the year at the event, did not give the judges anything to criticize as she maintained her landing perfectly. 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 deadlocked landing to record a 9,925 and improve the team’s score on volts. The Red Rocks finished with a 49,425 volts score, but Oklahoma rose to the top of the rankings after listing a 49,575 on poles. It was a lead that the Sooners never gave up as the team continued to build through the remaining events.

Although everything had gone well for the Red Rocks to the midpoint of the event, adversity hit in the third rotation as the team left several points on the board at bars. British Olympian Amelie Morgan opened the event with a solid 9,875 and a locked landing, but McCallum (9,725) followed with a low landing where she was forced to take a big step to avoid going to the ground.

In fourth and fifth place, Sage Thompson and O’Keefe scored 9.90 back-to-back scores to give the Red Rocks some much-needed points. Both maintained their landings, including on O’Keefe’s blind double Arabs. Often, O’Keefe gets a little too tall, and she is forced to take a step to stabilize when she hits the ground. But there was no step Thursday, to great excitement.

Cristal Isa seemed to close the contest in the anchor position with one of her normally flawless routines, but the senior came a little sideways on her last rotation of the pole prior to her disembarkation and she was forced to take a jump forward on her landing. Her 9.70 score was dropped, but that left Utah with a thin margin heading into the night’s final rotation.

But if there was one event the Red Rocks wanted to end on, it was Ray. Utah ranked No. 1 for most of the season at the event, and few in the country can compete with its lineup. Meanwhile, Alabama had to finish strong on volts for any chance to overtake Utah and claim a spot in the Final Four.

Alabama, which was number five in the country on volts, had a day off and stumbled through the event. Three of the team’s six competing gymnasts recorded a score lower than 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 event.

The Red Rocks did not need their best, but they had to stay upright. Luckily for the team, Morgan started the event with a 9.90 score and stopped landing to set the tone. Three of Utah’s remaining five gymnasts then scored a 9.9375 to achieve a draw with Minnesota’s Lexy Ramler and Alabama’s Luisa Blanco for the night’s best score in the event.

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

The drama at the event was not as dramatic as the regional final, but the beam team was no less instrumental in the Red Rocks advancing to the next stage of the competition.

The national championship takes place on Saturday at 11.00 MDT and will be broadcast on ABC.

The team scores

None. 1 Oklahoma

  • Vault (49,3500)
  • Bars (98,95050, 49,5750)
  • Beam (148.4375, 49.5125)
  • Floor (198.1125, 49.6750)

Nr. 4 Utah

  • Floor (49,4750)
  • Vault (98.9000, 49.4250)
  • Bars (148.1125, 49.2125)
  • Beam (197,7125, 49,6000)

None. 8 Minnesota

  • Beam (48,9750)
  • Floor (98,4750, 49,5000)
  • Vault (147.7250, 49.2500)
  • Bars (197,1125, 49,3875)

Nr. 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)

  • Mail 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: columns (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

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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