Utah Gymnastics Looks Poised to Compete for a National Championship

University+of+Utah+Red+Rocks+in+a+NCAA+Womens+Gymnastics+meet+vs.+UCLA+at+the+Jon+M.+Huntsman+Center+in+Salt+Lake+City%2C+Utah+on+Friday%2C+Feb.+19%2C+2021.+%28Photo+by+Kevin+Cody+%7C+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

Kevin Cody

University of Utah Red Rocks in a NCAA Women’s Gymnastics meet vs. UCLA at the Jon M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. (Photo by Kevin Cody | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Chase Mullin, Assistant Sports Editor

 

Most casual University of Utah sports fans would likely be excited to hear that the University of Utah Red Rocks gymnastics team is going into the 2022 season ranked fourth in the nation. The sentiment among the team themselves, however, is entirely different. Coming off a 2021 campaign that saw Utah finish third at the NCAA national championships, the Red Rocks believe that their team, which is composed of a handful of award-winning returning gymnasts from last year as well as a freshman class filled with Olympians, is ready to make a run at a national championship.

“We can either choose to be angry about it and push forward and prove them wrong, or we can dwell on it and let it push us back,” said junior Maile O’Keefe in regards to how the team felt about being ranked fourth. “I think our approach is definitely going to be to prove them wrong.”

As most Utah sports fans know, the University of Utah Red Rocks are somewhat like the Alabama football of college gymnastics. Much like how Alabama football has a track record for producing NFL players, Utah gymnastics consistently produce Olympians, and the expectation is often not just to make the national championships, but to compete for, and win them. 

Indeed, the Red Rocks hold the record for most national championship appearances with 45, including a record 22 NCAA Super Six appearances, as well as nine NCAA national championships, second only to Georgia with 10. Given the program’s prestigious history and the talent on the roster, it makes sense why the Red Rocks feel they are coming into the season with a chip on their shoulder.

“I wouldn’t say being ranked fourth is insulting, it’s quite flattering,” said four-time All-American Sydney Soloski. “But I think with this team, returning all but one routine from last year, with a freshman class of four incredibly talented women and having the coaching staff that we do, we know that we can do more than just make the final day.”

The 2022 University of Utah gymnastics team is, quite frankly, stacked. Twelve of the 16 gymnasts on the Red Rocks roster are returning from last year. After finishing third in the nation as a team in 2021, this on its own should indicate that Utah is going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2022. In addition to the number of returning gymnasts, the remaining four roster spots are occupied by what has been widely accepted as one of the best freshman classes in the program’s history.

Among the freshman class of four is Kara Eaker, a United States Olympic team alternate who is looking to crack the beam and floor lineups, as well as Lehi, Utah’s own Sage Thompson on bars. Thompson was an uneven bars national champion at the 2019 Junior Olympics.

While Eaker and Thompson’s resumes are about as impressive as it gets, the Red Rocks’ freshman class also features Grace McCallum and Amelie Morgan, both of whom were medalists in the team event at the 2020 Olympics. McCallum won a silver medal in the 2020 Olympics for the United States and will almost certainly be a star for the Red Rocks in multiple events in the future. Amelie Morgan rounds out the freshman class on vault and beam. Morgan, a native of Bristol England, came back from Tokyo last summer with a bronze medal for Great Britain.

In addition to a freshman class which features multiple Olympians, the returning group on the Red Rocks’ roster consists of NCAA All-Americans, several Pac-12 individual champions, and even an NCAA individual national champion. Leading the returning group is junior Maile O’Keefe. O’Keefe’s gymnastics resume is long enough that it perhaps deserves an article of its own. For the sake of time, just know that O’Keefe won two individual NCAA national championships last season, one on bars and one on the floor, and she is a seven-time All-American (NCAA and regular season combined).

The accolades held by individuals on Utah’s roster don’t stop there, as the Red Rocks have All-Americans set to compete in every event. On beam, O’Keefe is joined by two-time regular season All-American, Abby Paulsen, and three-time regular season All-American, Christal Isa, who is also an NCAA All-American on bars. On vault, the Red Rocks are led by 2021 regular season All-American Alexia Burch.

Among the key veteran leaders on the team is Calgary, Alberta native, Sydney Soloski. Soloski, a fifth-year senior, four-time All-American, and 2021 Pac-12 floor co-champion, is accompanied by O’Keefe on floor for the Red Rocks.

The Red Rocks roster is also extraordinarily deep. Aside from the household names, the Red Rocks roster consists of several second-team All-Americans as well as All-Pac-12 selections such as Jaedyn Rucker and Cammy Hall, to name a few, who would certainly be the biggest names mentioned in essentially any other Pac-12 school paper’s gymnastics season preview article.

Only time will tell, but as of right now, the University of Utah gymnastics team appears to be a serious contender for a national title. The team itself, expect nothing less.

The University of Utah Red Rocks open up their season on Friday, Jan. 7, at the Maverik Center in the Rio Tinto Best of Utah meet. Utah will face No. 19 BYU, No. 25 Southern Utah, and Utah State. Red Rocks fans should also mark their calendars for Friday, Jan. 14, as the No. 4 Red Rocks face off against No. 2 Oklahoma at the Huntsman Center in arguably the most anticipated meet of the Red Rocks season. Utah will have their chance early on in the season to prove they are better than just the fourth-best team in the nation.

 

[email protected]

@Chase_Chat