The Red Rocks place 2nd in the semi-finals and qualify for the national championship

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)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – The Red Rocks aren’t done yet.

And with a national championship on the line, Utah positioned itself to compete for another title as the Red Rocks advanced to the Final Four of the Women’s Gymnastics National Championship.

The Red Rocks held a .1375 lead over third-place Alabama heading into the final rotation of the first session at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas on Thursday. But as the Red Rocks showed why they led the nation on balance beam, Alabama faltered on vault and Utah took one of two available Final Four berths.

Oklahoma, which entered the opening session ranked first in the nation, had no trouble claiming the other spot to join Utah in Saturday’s final game. The Sooners won the competition 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 in the national championship game, which will be decided Thursday night. The four remaining teams in contention for a spot in this encounter (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 the floor and never looked back Thursday afternoon.

Abby Paulson started on the floor and recorded a 9.850, and the scores only went up from there, with Grace McCallum (9.9375) and Sydney Soloski (9.9125) leading the team in the first spin. Soloski didn’t know it at the end of her routine, but with the Red Rocks moving into Saturday’s competition, she gets one last time to put it all on the floor for the team.

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

That rang even truer when a sometimes fragile arch event turned into a strength on Thursday. Maile O’Keefe opened the second rotation with a 9.825 and a nearly blocked landing; and again, the scores kept growing from there. The event was capped off with a record score of 9.9625 from Jaedyn Rucker in third place.

Rucker, who had some difficulty earlier in the year on the event, gave the judges nothing to criticize as she nailed her landing perfectly. She exploded with joy when the realization of the moment hit, and her teammates were there to celebrate the success.

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

Although all went well for the Red Rocks until the middle of the game, adversity hit in the third rotation when the team left several runs on the board on the bars. British Olympian Amelie Morgan opened the event with a strong 9.875 and a blocked landing, but McCallum (9.725) followed with a low landing where she was forced to take a big step to avoid falling to the ground.

In fourth and fifth place, Sage Thompson and O’Keefe posted back-to-back scores of 9.90 to give the Red Rocks much-needed points. Both hit their landings, including O’Keefe’s blind Arab double. Often, O’Keefe climbs a little too high and she is forced to take a step to stabilize herself once she hits the ground. But there were no marches on Thursday, much to his excitement.

Cristal Isa looked to close out the event in anchor position with one of her usually flawless routines, but the eldest got a little off on her last rotation of the bar before her drop and she was forced to leap forward upon landing. His 9.70 score was dropped, but he left Utah with a slim margin going into the final rotation of the night.

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

Alabama, which placed fifth in the nation on vault, had a day off and stumbled in the event. Three of the team’s six competing gymnasts scored below 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 the last place in the competition.

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

Paulson was the first to reach the top when she returned to the beam team after a back problem kept her out the first night of regionals. And then Kara Eaker and O’Keefe closed the game with a score of 9.9375 in consecutive sticks. O’Keefe had a little balance control midway through her routine, but she still managed to keep a high score.

The drama of the competition was not as dramatic as the Regional Finals, but the beam team nonetheless helped push the Red Rocks to the next stage of the competition.

The national championship game is Saturday at 11 a.m. MDT and will air on ABC.

Team results

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)
  • Ground (147.9750, 49.4500)
  • Vault (197.1000, 49.1250)

Red Rocks Individual Scores

1st Rotation: Ground (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 round: jump (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 round: Bars (49.2125)

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

4th Rotation: Beam (49.6000)

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

Josh is the athletic director of and editor of athletics at the University of Utah – primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press top 25 voter for college football.

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