Beam Lineup Saves No. 4 Utah Gymnastics from Upset in Opening Round of NCAA Tournament


Jonathan Wang

University of Utah gymnastics team at a home meet in 2022. (Photo by Jonathan Wang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Chase Mullin, Assistant Sports Editor


Coming off their second consecutive Pac-12 championship, the No. 4 University of Utah gymnastics team traveled to Seattle to compete in the second round of the NCAA gymnastics playoff tournament after earning a bye in the first round.

The second round of the NCAA gymnastics tournament is essentially the equivalent to the round of 32 in March Madness, and the Utah Red Rocks faced off against Stanford, the University of Illinois and No. 13 Oregon State, with the top two highest scores in this quad-meet moving on to the next round.

As the highest-rated team out of the four competing in Thursday evening’s affair, most gymnastics fans would have understandably predicted Utah to run away with this meet with relative ease and advance to the round of 16. This meet, however, proved to be far from a cake walk for the Red Rocks.

The Red Rocks opened up the meet on floor, and while Jaedyn Rucker, Grace McCallum and Maile O’Keefe all posted 9.90 scores, Utah’s consistently reliable anchor Sydney Soloski scored an uncharacteristic 9.775. After one rotation, Utah sat in last place with a team score of 49.300, not far behind first-place Illinois who scored 49.400 in the opening frame.

Despite a relatively mediocre first rotation by Utah standards, Red Rocks fans had no reason to be concerned, especially after O’Keefe and Lucy Stanhope opened the second rotation with back-to-back 9.90’s on vault. Utah’s Alexia Burch would also add a 9.95.

These scores, however, would be offset by a 9.80 from McCallum, a 9.775 from Rucker, and a 9.75 from Cammy Hall, ultimately leaving Utah in third place at the halfway point of the meet with an overall score of 98.625, while Stanford and Illinois stood tied for first at 98.775. It still wasn’t quite time to hit the panic button at this point, but perhaps a handful of Red Rocks fans were starting to notice their palms sweating.

Needing a big performance on bars, Amelie Morgan opened the third rotation for Utah with a 9.90, with O’Keefe earning her third 9.90 of the evening shortly after. Burch would add a much-needed 9.95 for the Red Rocks, giving Utah a team score of 49.475 on bars.

Throughout the season, the meet was oftentimes essentially over in Utah’s favor going into the final rotation. Much to the surprise of gymnastics fanatics, however, this meet would ultimately come down to the last rotation. Sitting in first place at 148.100, Utah could feel Illinois and Stanford breathing on their necks with scores of 148.075 and 148.000, respectfully.

With an upset for the ages brewing and the panic button officially hit by Red Rocks nation, Utah’s season rested in the hands of their beam lineup, which came into Thursday ranked No. 1 in the nation. Utah’s sheer dominance throughout the season on beam didn’t matter at this point, as Utah’s beam lineup now had to perform in the biggest pressure situation they have faced all season.

Morgan and Adrienne Randall were unfazed by the magnitude of the moment, leading off the last rotation with back-to-back 9.90’s that resulted in a delightful cheer from the surprisingly large Utah crowd that made the trip to Seattle. Unsatisfied with just two 9.950 scores on the night, Burch decided to remarkably add a third 9.950 on the night.

While nobody could have predicted that this meet would come down to the final rotation, what happened next was even more seemingly impossible, as Cristal Isa, Kara Eaker, and O’Keefe would cap off the rotation with 9.950 scores of their own. Utah’s four-consecutive 9.950 scores would help Utah book their trip to the next round with a 49.700 score on the rotation, and a first-place winning 197.800 team score on the night.

When it counted the most, Utah’s strongest lineup, beam, proved that despite the spring temperatures outside, they still had ice in their veins. Utah now advances to the regional finals, essentially the Sweet 16, where they will face off against No. 1 Alabama, Michigan State and Stanford on Saturday, April 2.


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