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Red Rocks Finish Third at NCAA Championship Final After Heartbreaking Final Rotation

Despite a disappointing final rotation on vault, the Red Rocks battled through adversity all season long and proved that the culture of champions is still very much alive within the program.  
Xiangyao Tang
The Utah Red Rocks pose for a photo at the NCAA Gymnastics Championships at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, TX on Saturday, April 20, 2024. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


After finishing first in the NCAA Championship Semifinal II, the No. 5 Utah Red Rocks advanced to a fourth consecutive Championship Final. In Utah’s 48th consecutive National Championship appearance, the Red Rocks were joined by No. 2 LSU, No. 3 California and No. 4 Florida in the Final Four.

Not only is this another historic year for the Red Rocks, but for the Pac-12 Conference as a whole. Two Pac-12 teams, Utah and California, had exceptional seasons, advancing into the final. The last time two Pac-12 teams made it was in 2018, when the final allowed six teams to advance to the the “Super Six.” UCLA took home the title that year, with Utah finishing fifth.

As the rain poured down in Fort Worth, the Red Rocks got started on bars. Makenna Smith started things off, scoring 9.850. Ella Zirbes came next, hitting 9.8625 before Amelie Morgan hit a 9.875. Maile O’Keefe fired the Utah crowd up with a 9.900. Grace McCallum stepped up next, sticking a difficult dismount and tallying 9.950. Alani Sabado came in as the anchor, scoring 9.8375.

Through the first rotation, the Red Rocks sat in third with 49.4375. LSU held the top spot with 49.6125, followed by California at 49.475 and Florida rounded out the standings at 49.250.

Heading into the second rotation, the Red Rocks moved over to one of their stronger events, the balance beam. Morgan started, scoring a beautiful 9.9125. Smith followed with a 9.8375. McCallum came next, hitting her signature triple-wolf turn to score 9.9375. Abby Paulson made her first appearance of the afternoon, tallying 9.850. O’Keefe, a fan-favorite on the beam, hit 9.900 after struggling with her landing. Elizabeth Gantner rounded out the rotation for the Red Rocks with a 9.875.

The Red Rocks totaled 49.475 on the beam, sitting at 98.9125 at the halfway point. LSU still held the top spot, scoring 99.0125. Utah followed by a slim margin after jumping ahead of California. The Golden Bears sat in third at 98.850, and Florida remained in fourth at 98.725.

Moving to floor, Smith started the Red Rocks off with a strong 9.900. Zirbes came second, adding a 9.9125 before Paulson’s iconic Taylor Swift routine scored 9.925. Jaylene Gilstrap followed Paulson up, scoring another 9.925 for the Red Rocks. O’Keefe continued the trend, scoring a third consecutive 9.925. With Utah holding the lead, McCallum came in at the anchor spot, hitting 9.900 as Utah remained at 49.5875 on floor.

With every Utah gymnast scoring in the 9.900s on floor, the Red Rocks jumped into first place with just one rotation left. The Red Rocks sat at 148.500, with LSU close behind at 148.4625. California held third with 148.350 and Florida rounded things out at 147.9625.

With the Red Rocks holding a narrow lead, Camie Winger started things off on vault. An unfortunate fall on the landing saw Winger score only 9.2875, and the pressure grew as Utah attempted to hold on to the top spot. Zirbes came next, scoring 9.675 after a large step on her landing. Ashley Glynn made her only appearance of the afternoon, giving Utah a much needed 9.9125. Smith followed, scoring another 9.9125 to total 39.500 in all-around competition. Jaedyn Rucker scored 9.900 and McCallum came in at the anchor spot with 9.900 to give the Red Rocks 49.300 on vault.

Heartbreak struck for the Red Rocks. While they recovered their momentum on vault, the 49.300 wasn’t enough to maintain their lead. LSU took home the championship, finishing with 198.225, and California followed in second with 197.850. For the fourth year in a row, the Red Rocks finished in third place, scoring 197.800. Florida rounded out the standings in fourth, scoring 197.4375.

The Red Rocks had been set for an Olympic rotation after their semifinal, but the order was changed before today’s competition.

“I feel like this team has been excellent at adapting all year and we chose to not make it a concern,” Head Coach Carly Dockendorf said of the change. “We definitely could have made it a big deal, but we just focused on what we had, and that’s what we did.”

The Red Rocks have faced significant adversity this year and a third-place finish is nothing to balk at. The team has been to more national championships than any other program and holds the second-most titles of all time, behind Georgia.

“I just took this program over five months ago,” Dockendorf said. “So just really looking for the opportunity to continue to grow. Obviously much different than it was before; we’re going to hire a fourth coach and there’s lots of things that will be adjusted. But the biggest thing is what we accomplished in the last couple months, probably more than most people could have ever imagined.”

Despite the heartbreaking final rotation, the Red Rocks battled all season long and have proved that the culture of champions is still very much alive within the program.


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About the Contributors
Sean Overton
Sean Overton, Sports Editor
Sean Overton is the Editor of the Sports Desk. He is currently a senior and is majoring in Business Administration with plans to attend law school.
Xiangyao Tang
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

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