The No. 4 Red Rocks celebrate after winning the Seattle regional final on Saturday, April 2, 2022.

Eaker, O’Keefe score perfect 10s to send Red Rocks to 46th straight nationals

The No. 4 Red Rocks celebrate after winning the Seattle regional final on Saturday, April 2, 2022. (Utah Athletics)

Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Just seconds before her dismount on beam, Alexia Burch couldn’t sustain a balance check.

The super senior came off the beam and recorded a 9.175 score, leaving the No. 4 Red Rocks with little room for error in the final rotation of the Seattle regional finals at Alaska Airlines Arena Saturday night. Two nights ago in the regional semifinal, Burch was a key factor in the Red Rocks advancing to the final — mistakes happen.

Another slip up on beam and the Red Rocks would miss out on their 46th straight national championship appearance — a national record.

Senior Cristal Isa was up next and took a few deep breaths before starting her routine; she was responsible for resetting the tone for the team. Moments later, Isa stuck her landing on a near flawless routine and the judges gave her a 9.975 — talk about momentum swing.

The Red Rocks weren’t finished just yet.

Without seemingly any stress on her shoulders, freshman Kara Eaker performed a flawless routine and recorded her first 10.0 of her short career. But even with the perfect score, it was up to Maile O’Keefe to deliver with the Red Rocks sitting in third place. It was all up to O’Keefe.

“I kind of just had to do a normal routine — obviously easier said than done under pressure — but I knew if I just trusted myself and used my breathing that I’d be fine,” O’Keefe said.

And a “normal routine” for O’Keefe has typically been perfection. The junior from Las Vegas did just that and recorded her third 10.0 score on beam of the season as the Red Rocks edged past No. 5 Alabama to win the regional final with a postseason all-time school record of 198.200. The Red Rocks join Alabama (198.175) from the Seattle regional to advance to nationals.

“I was shaking in my boots,” O’Keefe said of the moment just before her performance. “I trust myself, I was just obviously nervous, and I think that’s OK, because I feel like that means I care.”

Regional opponents No. 12 Michigan State (197.650) and the Cinderella team of Stanford (49.225), who had to compete in three meets in four days, put up a worthy fight and kept the regional final a close one down to the bitter end.

“It just speaks volumes for where our sport is at,” Utah head coach Tom Farden said. “The margins are just so tight now, which is just to make the Elite Eight.

“You’ve got to be dang close to flawless to get into that last day. And so stacking up, I mean, you know, Alabama was incredible as well. So this was just another barnburner and we had one just get to here, and then we had another one just to get to here and so, I mean, you can see it across country how tight things are.”

The Red Rocks join Alabama, Florida (198,775), Oklahoma (198,250), Michigan (197,800), Auburn (197,775), Minnesota (197,725), and Missouri (197,425) at nationals April 14-16 in Fort Worth, Texas.

Two nights after the Red Rocks needed a solid beam performance to get to the finals, the energy level from the team was different Saturday — in a positive way. The Red Rocks, once again, started on floor and started out with a bang when Abby Paulson, who was reinserted into the lineup after a recent injury to her back that kept her out of the semifinals, led off with a 9.90 score.

It was the only event for Paulson, but it was exactly what the team needed to kick the meet off. Jaylene Gilstrap and Jaedyn Rucker followed up with back-to-back 9.90 scores of their own before Grace McCallum hit a 9.950 and O’Keefe scored another 9.90. Super senior Sydney Soloski, who had an uncharacteristic step out of bounds on her first pass Thursday, scored a 9.950 in the anchor position.

It was good enough for the Red Rocks to take an early 0.100 lead over Alabama after the first rotation.

The Red Rocks scored a 49.400 score on vault, which included 9.90 scores from Rucker and Burch before a 9.925 score by McCallum, and a 49.475 on bars. McCallum hit a team-high 9.950 score on bars — a big bounce back performance from her fall off bars on Thursday.

Alabama was a worthy foe and pulled into the lead after the third rotation with a 148.525-148.475 lead over the Red Rocks. The Crimson Tide could smell a national appearance going into the final rotation.

But once again, the Red Rocks’ beam team delivered when it mattered most. And the team continues its 46-straight national championship appearance streak alive for another season.

“The magnitude of 46 in a row, we just take it one season at a time and one preseason at a time and one Christmas break at a time,” Farden said. “I know what the banners represent, but I try not to get too wrapped up into it and just coach each team according to their needs. And this team had different needs and last year’s, and so it’s always an experiment.”

“This is not when you want to peak, we want to peak in two weeks,” O’Keefe said. “So, obviously, we still have room for improvement. So I feel like it’s a good thing.”

The Red Rocks will have their work cut out for them, but they’ve got two weeks to prepare for another nationals appearance.

Team scores

No. 4 Utah

  • Floor (49.600)
  • Vault (99,000, 49,400)
  • Bars (148.475, 49.475)
  • Beam (198.200, 49.725)

No. 5 Alabama

  • Vault (49,500)
  • Bars (98,900, 49,400)
  • Beam (148.525, 49.625)
  • Floor (198.175, 49.600)

No. 12 Michigan State

  • Bars (49.275)
  • Beam (98.700, 49.425)
  • Floor (148.250, 49.550)
  • Vault (197.650, 49.400)

Stanford

  • Beam (49.275)
  • Floor (98.725, 49.450)
  • Vault (148.025, 49.300)
  • Bars (197.250, 49.225)

Individual Red Rock scores

1st Rotation: Floor (49.600)

  • Abby Paulson: 9,900
  • Jaylene Gilstrap: 9,900
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9,900
  • Grace McCallum: 9,950
  • Maile O’Keefe: 9,900
  • Sydney Soloski: 9,950

2nd Rotation: Vault (49,400)

  • Maile O’Keefe: 9.875
  • Lucy Stanhope: 9,800
  • Jaedyn Rucker: 9,900
  • Alexia Burch: 9,900
  • Grace McCallum: 9.925
  • Cammy Hall: 9,800

3rd Rotation: Bars (49.475)

  • Amelie Morgan: 9.875
  • Grace McCallum: 9,950
  • Alexia Burch: 9,900
  • Sage Thompson: 9,850
  • Maile O’Keefe: 9.725
  • Crystal Isa: 9,900

4th Rotation: Beam (49.725)

  • Amélie Morgan: 9,900
  • Adrianne Randall: 9,850
  • Alexia Burch: 9.175
  • Crystal Isa: 9.975
  • Kara Eaker: 10.0
  • Maile O’Keefe: 10.0

Josh is the Sports Director for KSL.com 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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