Utah Gymnastics Falls Just Short of National Championship

University+of+Utah+gymnastics+team+at+a+home+meet+in+2022.+%28Photo+by+Jonathan+Wang+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

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

 

In 10 years, members of the 2021-2022 University of Utah gymnastics team will likely look at this season in hindsight and remember it for being the special year that it was. For now, however, Saturday’s third place finish in the NCAA National Championships feels somewhat heartbreaking for Red Rocks nation. 

Despite being in first place after two rotations, Utah’s final score of 197.75 on Saturday was not enough to match No.1 ranked Oklahoma’s 198.200 which ultimately secured the Sooners’ fifth national title in school history. While this season saw some incredible moments, including beating Oklahoma earlier in the year at home, the mentality throughout the season for the Red Rocks was seemingly championship or bust.

Take it from Sydney Soloski, Utah’s floor anchor who returned for her fifth year for the main purpose of winning a national championship after last year’s third-place finish. A couple weeks before the team’s first official meet, Soloski made it clear that the team’s goal wasn’t to make the final four like they did the year before but to win it all.

“A lot of teams would be ecstatic to be there and we were one of those teams last year that was happy to just make it to the final four,” Soloski said back in December. “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.”

Ranked No. 4 for essentially the entire season, a ranking that made it feel as if the Red Rocks had a chip on their shoulder, Utah found themselves back at the final day of the NCAA National Championships only to finish in the same spot they did a year prior. Make no mistake, however, as this meet was not necessarily lost by Utah, but rather won by Oklahoma.

Utah knew coming into the meet that they would need to be nearly perfect to secure the title, as Oklahoma’s 198.250 in the semis set the bar that Utah would need at least a 198.200 to be crowned national champions, a mark that Utah reached in the second round of the NCAA regionals this year, albeit by setting a school record for highest postseason score in school history.

To reach 198.200, Utah needed to put together a complete four rotation meet, and they were on their way to doing so early on with their beam and floor efforts. Per usual, Utah’s beam lineup ate their Wheaties. Led by a 9.95 from Kara Eaker, Utah sat in first after the opening rotation with a score of 49.5125.

The momentum would carry over to floor, where 9.90’s from Abby Paulson and Grace McCallum as well as a 9.9125 from Sydney Soloski gave Utah a 49.4625 floor score. With two rotations in the book, Utah was halfway to a national championship, sitting at the top with a 98.975, with Oklahoma in striking distance at 98.850.

Although consistently solid in the event all year, Utah’s vault had a fault, as only one gymnast surpassed the 9.850 mark, causing the Red Rocks to fall from first to third after a 49.225 performance. The one bright spot was a 9.975 which came from none other than Jaedyn Rucker, the individual 2022 NCAA Vault National Champion.

Utah’s vault performance proved to be a killer, as Utah entered the final rotation at 148.200, trailing Oklahoma by .375. On bars, Amelie Morgan and Maile O’Keefe stepped up to the plate for Utah, both posting 9.90’s. In addition to this, Utah saw a 9.9125 from Sage Thompson and a 9.95 from Grace McCallum.

“We knew that we were going to have to have a pretty strong day on vault to keep pace,” said head coach Tom Farden. “For one reason or another, it didn’t quite shake out that way, and then we moved on to bars and I am really proud of the way we finished strong.”

In the end, however, Utah’s highly respectable 49.550 on bars was not enough to overcome the Sooners. 

 

Utah might have fallen short of its ultimate goal of winning the national title, but the Red Rocks are not coming home from Fort Worth empty-handed. Utah’s Jaedyn Rucker was crowned the individual 2022 NCAA National Vault Champion, and seven Red Rocks earned NCAA All-American Honors.

The individual awards won by the Red Rocks this season will certainly help boost the resumes of these individual gymnasts to further their careers after college and maybe even help some of these gymnasts make a case for why they deserve a spot on an Olympic roster, which Utah gymnastics fans will be happy to see. The Red Rocks, however, are used to their gymnasts winning individual awards every year. What the Red Rocks haven’t seen since 1995, however, is a national championship. 

Much like the New York Yankees, Utah gymnastics is a storied program that has built such a great reputation for winning over the years that most people don’t judge them for how great their season was, but rather based on whether or not they won a title. Do not let this deter you from the fact that this was overall a great season for the program, as expressed by head coach Tom Farden.

“We are going to hold our heads up high because it was a great year,” Farden said. “It is an accomplishment for these athletes in terms of what they have achieved — not only this year, but over the past several years. Much to be proud of today.”

Utah finishes the season as the third-best team in NCAA gymnastics as well as Pac-12 champions. Although the expectation was to win a championship, Red Rocks fans should take solace in the fact that their team had a great season, but simply fell to a remarkable Oklahoma team that the Red Rocks would have had to set a school record to beat. There is no doubt that the Red Rocks will have another crack at a national championship in the near future.

 

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