For nearly two years, the Utah gymnastics program became accustomed to seeing their name at the top of scoreboards. That's because the last time they lost a match came in April 2019 during the NCAA semifinals.
So when the Red Rocks showed up in Norman, Oklahoma as the No. 3 ranked team in the nation, they found themselves up against No. 2 Oklahoma in what's been deemed the best nonconference matchup of the season.
Unfortunately the Red Rocks ended their 14-match winning streak when they fell 197.025-196.550 to the Sooners.
“Hats off to Oklahoma,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “They won today and had an incredible day. The right team won.”
The Red Rocks had plenty of chances to seize the moment and the win but unfortunately the team didn't have its best stuff. Whether it be the moment, the travel or competing in front of fans, Utah failed to look like the perennial national power they're known for.
“I don’t think they were aggressive or determined enough as a group,” Farden said. “Individuals were and we had some brilliant individual performances, but I don’t feel that they collectively came together as a team and came to play. I know when this team is coming to play and they did not. We are disappointed. We saw where we stack up and we have work to do.”
Work to do is putting it slightly because some of the Utes top performers struggled throughout the competition. There was also the demeanor within the team, as some of them looked like a deer in headlights and appeared more focused on the environment and the Sooners, rather than themselves and their teammates.
One Ute who did not disappoint was sophomore Maile O'Keefe.
She shined throughout all four of her routines, notching the top score for the Utes in the vault, beam and bars portions. Her score of 9.950 on the beam was the highest of the competition, while her 9.875 on the bars placed second overall and 9.850 was third in the vault competition.
O'Keefe's performance allowed her to win the overall with a score of 39.550, narrowly taking down Oklahoma's Anastasia Webb's 39.525. Utah's Cristal Isa finished in third overall with a score of 38.975, a far cry from her 39.400 she posted during the 'Best of Utah' event.
“Maile was in her zone tonight,” Farden said. “She came out on bars, and as soon as I saw that and the vault, we knew that Maile was here. She was one of the individuals that came to play. Brilliant performance by Maile. I think that was the best beam routine of her career. She gave us a good shot in the arm, and I wish we had taken advantage of it.”
Sydney Soloski was the other Ute who shined as her floor routine of 9.900 tied with Oklahoma's Emma LaPinta for the top score.
“There were some instances today where we weren’t very comfortable,” Farden said. “We had to give that opportunity to our athletes so that the next time we go out there, we’ve learned from this and we are better.”
Despite the loss, the meet served its purpose according to Farden.
He wanted to test his team early in the season so they would know exactly where they stood in regards to the country's elite and what they have to work in if they want to win a national title.
“At some point, if we talk about staying at the top of the conference and making (national) finals, you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” he said. “We didn’t give ourselves — in terms of opportunity, the deductions were truly there. I only filled out one inquiry this evening. From my eyes, there were deductions for our gymnastics tonight, and you have to move on from that.”
Utah, 3-1, is now ranked No. 6 in the country following the loss. It's unknown when they will compete next as the remainder of the Red Rocks schedule has yet to be determined.
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