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The Red Rocks Finish Third at NCAA Gymnastics Finals

The University of Utah came into the 2023 Gymnastics Final Four as the only school to qualify for all 47 national championships and coming off the highest score in the Elite Eight round. Squaring off against Oklahoma, Florida, and LSU in the "Four on the Floor," the Red Rocks were aiming to bring home the first national championship since 1995. Unfortunately, a below average vault rotation coupled with a fierce pace set by Oklahoma did not result in bringing the championship to Salt Lake City, as Utah finished in 3rd place for the third year in a row.

Here's a recap of each rotation for Utah:

First Rotation: Floor

Utah started off strong with a score of 49.500. After a pair of 9.8750s from Abby Brenner and Jaylene Gilstrap, every member of the floor rotation scored a 9.900 or higher, with freshman Makenna Smith leading the way with a 9.9250. In a meet like this with elite competition, an overall score of 198.000 or higher was going to be needed to keep pace for the top spot, so a 49.500 was exactly the start Utah needed.

Despite a strong start, Oklahoma and Florida were one and two with 49.5625 on vault and 49.5250 on beam, respectively. LSU was not too far behind after a 49.3125 on the beam.

Second Rotation: Vault

Maile O'Keefe was the lead off position on vault, and while she looked good in the air, a hop on her landing was a subtle sign to come as she scored a 9.7375. Grad transfer Abby Brenner was part of Michigan's 2021 national championship team and she looked to right the ship with a 9.900. Unfortunately, small steps and off-center landings plagued the rotation and no one else scored above a 9.8375.

A total vault score of 49.150 put Utah at 98.650, which is solid for an early season score, but not at the national championship. Oklahoma extended its lead after a stellar bar rotation to sit at 99.2000, followed by Florida at 98.950, Utah at 98.6500, then LSU at 98.5500.

Third Rotation: Bars

A 0.55-point deficit after two rotations is the equivalent of about a four-touchdown lead at halftime: not impossible to overcome, but extremely difficult and in need of a little luck. The Red Rocks bounced back to score a 49.5500 on the bars, highlighted by 9.9375s from Sage Thompson and Grace McCallum, and a 9.9250 from Maile O'Keefe.

Florida kept their distance with a 49.5750 on the vault, highlighted by Trinity Thompson's 28th career perfect 10, tying her at the top for the all-time number of 10.0s. Oklahoma held their ground with a 49.5125 on beam, and LSU earned a 49.4500 on the floor. After three rotations, Oklahoma was in first at 148.7125, followed by Florida at 148.5250, Utah at 148.200, and LSU at 148.000

Fourth Rotation: Beam

If there was one apparatus that the Red Rocks could hang their hat on all season, it was the beam. The nation's top-ranked beam team went out finished on a high note, starting with Amelie Morgan leading off with a 9.9125 to set the tone on the final rotation. Utah did not count a score lower than a 9.9125, highlighted by Cristal Isa's 9.9550 and Maile O'Keefe's tenth career perfect 10 on the beam. The Red Rocks finished with the highest score on a rotation for the meet with a 49.7375.

Unfortunately for Utah, the strong finish was not quite enough, as Oklahoma won their second straight national title and sixth in the last nine years with a score of 198.3875. Florida was firmly in second with a 198.2375, followed by Utah with 197.9375, and LSU finishing 4th at 197.5250.

All-American Honors and Awards

The Red Rocks may have not won the national championship as a team, but they did not leave Forth Worth, TX empty handed, as five gymnasts earned NCAA All-America honors during the semifinals. Gymnasts who finished in the top four in each event and the all-around earned first team honors, while fifth through eighth place earned second team honors.

Maile O'Keefe was the 2023 NCAA All-Around and Beam champion, earning first team honors in the all-around, bars, beam, and floor. O'Keefe scored a career high 39.7625, in the all-around, including a perfect 10 on beam. The senior from Las Vegas is a 16-time All-American (6 regular season, 10 NCAA) and a four-time national champion in her time at Utah.

Cristal Isa added first team honors on beam and second team honors on bars to her accolades this post-season. The fifth-year senior from Henderson, NV finishes her career at Utah as an eight-time All-American (5 regular season, 3 NCAA).

Grace McCallum returned from her injury from February 11 (ironically at a meet in Fort Worth), and earned first team All-American honors on the bars. The sophomore McCallum is now a six-time All-American (3 regular season, 3 NCAA).

Abby Brenner earned second team All-American honors on bars, her first post-season All-American award on the bars. The graduate transfer from Michigan is now a two-time All-American (1 regular season, 1 NCAA).

Freshman Makenna Smith earned her first All-American award as well, earning first team honors on the vault.

What's Next

The offseason begins for the University of Utah Gymnastics team after another strong season. The journey to qualify for a 48th consecutive national championship and the first title since 1995 brings back a squad full of talent and experience. Head coach Tom Farden will reload in 2024, bringing in another stellar class of gymnasts in Olivia Kennedy, Elizabeth Gantner, Ella Zirbes, and Camie Winger.