Utah Gymnastics Emerges Victorious in Rio Tinto Best of Utah Meet

University+of+Utah+womens+gymnastics+sophomore+Cristal+Isa+performs+on+the+floor+in+the+Deseret+dual+meet+vs.+BYU%2C+Utah+State%2C+and+Southern+Utah+University+at+the+Maverik+Center+in+Salt+Lake+City%2C+Utah+on+Saturday%2C+Jan.+11%2C+2020.+%28Photo+by+Kiffer+Creveling+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

University of Utah women’s gymnastics sophomore Cristal Isa performs on the floor in the Deseret dual meet vs. BYU, Utah State, and Southern Utah University at the Maverik Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020. (Photo by Kiffer Creveling | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Chase Mullin, Assistant Sports Editor

 

The No. 4 University of Utah gymnastics team started their season off strong on Friday night. The No. 4 Utah Red Rocks topped in-state rivals, No. 19 BYU, No. 25 Southern Utah University and No. 26 Utah State in the annual Rio Tinto Best of Utah meet. In a relatively low-scoring affair, Utah’s 197.10 total score was good enough to triumph over Utah State, BYU and Southern Utah, who posted total scores of 195.875, 195.225 and 195.000, respectfully.

It was a lively, family-friendly atmosphere at the Maverik Center, with a crowd that on the surface, appeared to be larger than what you’d see at the average Utah Grizzlies hockey team home game. There was a sea of red throughout the arena with a couple of blue shirts trickled in, as University of Utah fans, per usual, showed up in large numbers to watch their No. 4 Red Rocks kick off what they hope will be a championship campaign in 2022.

The general consensus among the University of Utah squad prior to Friday was that while being ranked fourth in the nation is an honor, the Red Rocks felt they had something to prove. Coming into the season, Utah fans knew that the Red Rocks were going to be an incredibly talented unit, as Utah returned 23 of 24 routines and 12 of 16 gymnasts from their 2021 third-place finish at the NCAA national championships, and the returning gymnasts did not disappoint.

Perhaps the biggest wild card for the Red Rocks, however, was how their highly touted freshman class, which features three Olympians and one junior Olympic national champion, would perform. The freshmen did not disappoint in their first career college meet, sending a message to the rest of the nation that Utah is a legitimate contender for the national championship.

Utah started the meet on beam, and the freshmen wasted no time in proving they belonged. While freshman and United States Olympic alternate Kara Eaker injured herself early on, Eaker first posted a 9.875 on beam. Freshmen Grace McCallum and Amelie Morgan, both of whom medaled at the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo, followed suit by posting back to back 9.875 scores themselves on beam to kick off their college careers. 

“I had a lot of people kind’ve say to me ‘Oh you’ve been in the Olympics, surely you’re not going to be nervous for this,’” Amelie Morgan chuckled. “It’s definitely a different experience, a good different, but there’s definitely still pressure.”

Clearly, the pressure did not get to Morgan. Veteran Christal Isa, who was awarded as the MVP for Utah following the meet, also posted a remarkable 9.9 on beam, helping give Utah a lead from which they never looked back.

Among the other notable performances on the night was Abby Paulsen’s floor routine which resulted in a 9.875 score. On vault, Cammy Hall posted a 9.875 score, causing the crowd to completely erupt. 

It wasn’t perfect, but overall the Red Rocks had a strong showing in their first meet. 

“We had some obvious mistakes but it’s always nice to have a starting place,” said junior Maile O’Keefe in regards to the team’s performance. “Even though we didn’t hit all of our routines, it was a nice place to start [and] we can only get better.”

The Red Rocks hope to work out any kinks by next Friday, as they face No. 2 Oklahoma at the Hunstman Center in a heavyweight matchup.

 

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