Utah Gymnastics Punches Ticket to NCAA National Championships, Again


Jonathan Wang

Cristal Isa celebrating with her teammate after a perfect beam routine against the OSU Beavers at the Jon. M. Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2022. (Photo by Jonathan Wang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Chase Mullin, Assistant Sports Editor


For many college gymnastics programs, advancing to the national championship stage of the NCAA gymnastics tournament would be a celebrated accomplishment. For the University of Utah gymnastics program, however, making it this far isn’t just an expectation, it’s simply a part of the process, with Utah being the only program to qualify for every NCAA national championship.

Saturday night saw the No. 4 University of Utah Red Rocks top No. 5 Alabama, No. 12 Michigan State and No. 29 Stanford in the NCAA regional finals to clinch their ticket to the NCAA semi-finals in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Saturday’s meet was one that any gymnastics fanatic could appreciate, but with Utah advancing to the semi-finals, it is worth giving a little background on how the NCAA gymnastics tournament works for the handful of people who are just now hopping on the bandwagon. 

Each round of the tournament features four teams, with the top two teams in each meet advancing to the next round. The first two rounds of the playoffs are considered the regional stages, and are essentially equivalent to the round of 32 and Sweet 16 of March Madness. Saturday’s meet was the final round of regionals, and now Utah advances to the semi-finals in the national championship phase, essentially the elite eight. The top four teams from the semi-finals will compete in the NCAA national championship meet.

After a relatively surprising performance in the first round of the NCAA regionals, which saw Utah almost suffer a catastrophic upset until their beam lineup posted four-consecutive 9.95’s in the final rotation, the Red Rocks came into Saturday looking like an entirely different team. 

Opening the meet on floor, all six of Utah’s gymnasts scored a 9.90 or higher, including a 9.95 from freshman Grace McCallum. Overall, the Red Rocks would put up an impressive 49.600 in the opening rotation.

The first rotation was also highlighted by a bounce-back performance from anchor Sydney Soloski, who despite being an almost guaranteed 9.90 or above for Utah all year, posted a shocking 9.775 in the first round of regionals. Fed up with the criticism she received from the press, mostly The Daily Utah Chronicle, Soloski silenced the critics with a 9.95.

In an interview on the ESPN+ broadcast immediately following the first rotation, head coach Tom Farden said the team’s vault performance was “Nice and solid, we really liked the athletes’ focus. Floor is one of those tricky events where you can come out of the gates and have a little too much adrenaline, and we thought they were very composed.” 

The Red Rocks transitioned to vault, and despite not having quite the same performance they did on floor, still posted an overall score of 49.400 to remain in first place at the halfway point of the meet. Utah’s outing on vault featured 9.90’s from Alexia Burch and Jaedyn Rucker, as well as a 9.925 from Grace McCallum.

Burch and McCallum would continue the momentum into the next rotation, posting a 9.90 and 9.95 on bars, respectively. Senior Cristal Isa would add a 9.90 of her own, but Utah’s overall score of 49.475 dropped them to second place behind Alabama going into the final rotation.

Trailing Alabama 148.475-148.525, with Michigan State right behind the two of them at 148.250, the meet once again came down to Utah’s beam lineup. With Michigan State finishing their vault performance before Utah’s final three beam routines, Utah sat at 177.400 with Christal Isa, Kara Eaker and Maile O’Keefe needing to come up with a combined score that would put them past Michigan State’s final score of 197.650.

Isa and Eaker would rise to the occasion, with Isa posting a near-perfect 9.975, and Eaker following with a perfect 10. The meet came down to Maile O’Keefe, who needed to post a mere 9.50 or higher to secure Utah’s spot in the national championships. While O’Keefe could have let the moment get to her by falling off the beam, she instead decided to post a perfect 10, punching Utah’s ticket to Forth Worth, Texas.


Maile O’Keefe scores her THIRD 10.0 on beam this season to send us to nationals‼️ pic.twitter.com/dA6vzApvr1

Utah’s overall score of 198.200 was the highest postseason score in school history, and it was good enough to send Utah to its 46th consecutive national championship. Saturday’s victory now sets up an interesting matchup for Utah in the semi-finals, as they face No. 8 Minnesota, No. 5 Alabama again and No. 1 Oklahoma, who Utah beat earlier this season at home.


[email protected]