Utah gymnasts earn berth in NCAA regional final with workmanlike performance at Maverik Center

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(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sydney Soloski performs her floor exercise as the University of UtahÕs sixth-ranked Red Rocks compete at the NCAA 2021 National Collegiate regional championships Friday, April 2, 2021 at the Maverik Center.

Utah’s gymnastics team’s performance in the NCAA Regional Championship on Friday was very workmanlike. The Utes were good enough to lead from the start and advance to Saturday’s regional final comfortably, but their effort lacked many eye-popping results or dazzling performances.

That might not be a bad thing.

Utah won its session with a 197.5 and was joined in advancing by Arizona State (196.6). Southern Utah (195.975) and Boise State (195.825) failed to advance.

NCAA REGION CHAMPIONSHIPS

At the Maverik Center

When • Saturday, 7 p.m.

Live stream • ESPN3

The evening session was a little surprising with No. 14 Kentucky edging SEC rival and third-ranked LSU for the session win after the Tigers struggled on beam.

Kentucky finished with a 197.125 and LSU had 197.025 to also advance. Arizona (196.025) and Utah State (196.025) failed to qualify.

The Utes are competing for the first time this year in a back-to-back meet format with the top two finishers in Saturday’s region final advancing to the NCAA Championships April 16-17 in Fort Worth.

The last thing they needed to do was have a big blowout meet Friday that would exhaust them for Saturday’s effort.

Friday’s competition was solid, but there were areas the Utes can try to improve. They can live with that.

“Our goal was to stay clean and confident and consistent across the meet,” sophomore Abby Paulson said. “There is still a lot to improve but we did what we needed to do to move on.”

Finishing in the top two on Saturday would protect Utah’s distinction of being the only team to qualify for all of the national championships.

The Utes’ best Friday event was their opening effort on the balance beam where they scored a 49.55 with Maile O’Keefe leading the way scoring 9.95. Lucy Stanhope had a fall as second up, but Cristal Isa (9.9), Paulson (9.925) and Adrienne Randall (9.9) all responded well to set up O’Keefe.

Utah added a 49.375 on floor with O’Keefe and Sydney Soloski scoring 9.9s.

Vault, which was the weakest event for the Utes in the Pac-12 Championships, gave the Utes a few issues Friday with some steps on landings. They scored a 49.2 with Stanhope posting 9.875 for the team’s high mark. Bars was a little better with the Utes posting 49.375. Isa led the way there with a 9.9.

Outside of the fall from Stanhope, the Utes avoided any major mistakes. They just weren’t electrifying.

That kind of effort was good enough to “win,” the afternoon session, but Saturday could be a different story with tougher competition.

LSU hosted the 2019 regional in which Utah competed, and the Tigers won it while the Utes were second.

Utah would love to return the favor.

“We are going into tomorrow with the mindset we are the best team,” Isa said. “We have seen so many upsets through the conferences this season we know anyone can win and we have to bring our A game.”

The Utes have a knack to performing well when it matters and coach Tom Farden expects the same Saturday.

“We want to maintain this level and squeeze out a little more,” he said. “Beam and floor were done well but we can be sharper with the landings.”

That should be an achievable goal. Even though the Utes had a high score Friday, the steps on landings make it seem like there is more for the Utes to do.

“The top two gets us through but we have to work for it,” Farden said. “We would love to win another regional crown.”

Out of the four Utah teams to advance to regionals, the Utes were the only one to advance to the finals. Brigham Young finished third in the Morgantown region won by Cal with a 197.725. Ohio State was second with a 196.525 followed by BYU (196.35) and Towson (195.025).

FRIDAY’S TEAM SCORES

(Top two in each session advance to Saturday’s finals)

Afternoon session

Utah 197.5

Arizona State 196.6

Southern Utah 195.975

Boise State 195.825

Evening session

Kentucky 197.125

LSU 197.025

Arizona 196.025

Utah State 196.025

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