No. 22 Sun Devils record season high score to edge past No. 4 Red Rocks


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SALT LAKE CITY — It all came down to the final gymnast for both squads: No. 4 Utah’s Maile O’Keefe on beam and No. 22 Arizona State’s Hannah Scharf on floor.

The Red Rocks came into the final rotation of the night with its nation-leading event left and finding itself in a rare deficit, 148.150-147.800, against a program that it hadn’t lost to since 2003. In beam team the Red Rocks trusted to make a comeback.

By the time it was O’Keefe’s turn to go in the anchor spot, the Red Rocks had already recorded four straight scores of 9.90 or better to cut into Arizona State’s lead, which included a career-high 9.925 from freshman Makenna Smith and back-to-back 9.975 scores from Abby Paulson and Kara Eaker.

On her turn, O’Keefe had a slight balance check after her first trick and had a small hop on her dismount, leaving a razor thin margin remaining for a win as the Red Rocks controlled a .050 lead ahead of Scharf’s floor routine.

All the Red Rocks could do was watch to see if Scharf recorded a 9.90 or better on floor for the win. Scharf delivered on her birthday and closed out the meet with a 9.925 and a 39.675 all-around score to narrowly edge out a win with a season-high 197.550 score. The Red Rocks finished with a 197.500 score and suffered its first loss to the Sun Devils since 2003.

The Red Rocks held a lead after the first rotation of the day, but couldn’t put together a consistent effort from its six gymnasts on vault for the second week in a row. In back-to-back weeks, the Red Rocks scored lower than a 49.0 with a 48.925 score and were forced to count a 9.725 and a 9.750 after Jaedyn Rucker sat down on her landing.

Jillian Hoffman and Sage Thompson, who was a last-minute addition to the lineup in place of Alani Sabado, salvaged the event with back-to-back 9.825 scores, but neither score was enough to give the Red Rocks what it needed to stay above Arizona State.

Conversely, the Sun Devils put together a season-high 49.550 on bars to take a sizable lead, 98.825 – 98.425 over the Red Rocks. And from then on out it was up to the visiting team to dig itself out of a hole it created.

“It’s the second week in a row of really just doing three events well,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “And it caught up to us today — not the outcome we were training for or anticipated.”

Farden said he felt the team did well in the warm-up period before vault, but thought his team might have been “trying too hard on their sticks today, and resulting in short landings where they were opening up early and got caught off guard on some things.”

It’s one such area where the team missed Olympian Grace McCallum for the first full meet of the season after she suffered a hyperextended knee last week and is out for an underdetermined time period as she recovers. McCallum traveled with the team but was seen sitting on the side with a big brace over her leg. The Red Rocks also are without Lucy Stanhope, who remains sidelined with a bruised heel.

It was not the outcome the Red Rocks hoped for in a week where the team has two meets, but Farden said there is “always a silver lining in everything that we do.”

“I mean, obviously, when you’re in a high-pressure situation and you’re down three and a quarter tenths going into the last rotation and see our team crawl back with some unbelievable balance beams, it does speak volumes that they’re not quitters and they came to fight,” Farden said. “We just shot ourselves in the foot in the second rotation; it’s hard to come back from that.”

The Red Rocks opened up the meet on bars with a good momentum that started from British Olympian Amelie Morgan’s 9.825 in the leadoff spot. Smith followed it up with a 9.850 before Abby Brenner and Sage Thompson both recorded season-high 9.925 scores. O’Keefe and Cristal Isa closed out the rotation with back-to-back 9.90 scores to give the team a 49.50 team score.

After its struggle on vault, the team bounced back on floor and opened up the event with back-to-back 9.90 scores from Brenner and Jaylene Gilstrap. The remaining four gymnasts scored under the 9.90 mark, but picked up some ground on the Sun Devils going into the final rotation of the night trailing by .350.

Morgan opened up the event with a 9.80 score after a balance check on her first trick, but it was all 9.90 scores or better from then on out. Smith, who competed for the second week in the all-around competition and finished with a 39.40, upped the ante with a career high 9.925 and was followed by back-to-back 9.975 scores by Paulson and Eaker.

Isa delivered another strong routine but had a slight hop on her dismount and saw a deduction to a 9.90 score before O’Keefe closed out the event with her 9.925 to give the Red Rocks their second-highest score of the season on beam, a 49.70.

“We’re going to bounce back, we don’t have a choice,” Farden said. “We’re going to bounce back, and what we saw on the last two rotations, as far as their fight and especially that balance beam, we’re going to carry that into Friday. That’s the plan.

“We only play offense in gymnastics, and that’s to pile on the tenths, and we’re gonna find those tenths.”

Red Rocks team scores

1st Rotation: Bars (49.500)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.825
  • Makenna Smith: 9.850
  • Abby Brenner: 9.925
  • Sage Thompson: 9.925
  • Maile O’Keefe: 9.900
  • Cristal Isa: 9.900

2nd Rotation: Vault (48.925)

  • Jaylene Gilstrap: 9.725
  • Abby Brenner: 9.800
  • Makenna Smith: 9.750
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.350
  • Jillian Hoffman: 9.825
  • Sage Thompson: 9.825

3rd Rotation: Floor (49.375)

  • Abby Brenner: 9.900
  • Jaylene Gilstrap: 9.900
  • Abby Paulson: 9.850
  • Makenna Smith: 9.875
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9.850
  • Kara Eaker: 9.825

4th Rotation: Beam (49.700)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.800
  • Makenna Smith: 9.925
  • Abby Paulson: 9.975
  • Kara Eaker: 9.975
  • Cristal Isa: 9.900
  • Maile O’Keefe: 9.925

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer of University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.

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