You could feel it building. One routine after another was just a little glitch, a little hesitation, far from perfect. From 9.9 by Amelie Morgan, to 9.95 by Grace McCallum and Abby Paulson to 9.925 by Cristal Isa.
Utah’s beam routines flirted with perfection on Saturday, until Maile O’Keefe stepped up to the beam.
Next, the junior performed the routine everyone was waiting for at the Huntsman Center. She was flawless from move to move until landing, delivering one of the few 10.0 marks on the test.
As O’Keefe nailed the touchdown and threw his head back in satisfaction, the Utah crowd of 11,138 fans began a huge celebration anticipating a 10.0.
Oh yeah, Utah beat Stanford 197.675-196 in the Pac-12 encounter. The scoring seemed almost secondary to Utah’s performance on the beam.
To jump: Alexia Burch (Utah) 9.9
Uneven bars: Crystal Isa (Utah) 9.95
Balance beam: Maile O’Keefe (Utah) 10.0
Stage: Grace McCallum (Utah) 9.95
All around: Grace McCallum (Utah) 49.425
Recall a week ago the Utes suffered one of their worst beam efforts in the past two seasons as they scored just 49.025 after several big breaks.
Afterwards, O’Keefe said the Utes might get upset or do something about it. I guess we all know which way they went.
“It was the perfect preparation,” O’Keefe said of the beam. “I could play without any stress. It was all you could ask for as an anchor.
O’Keefe’s perfect score was the second of his career on the event, the first against Washington in 2021.
Her score placed her in a select group as she joined Missy Marlowe (1989-92), Kristen Kenoyer (1990-93), Traci Sommer (1995-98), Shannon Bowles (1998-02), Theresa Kulikowski (1999- 2003) and Ashley Postell (2005-08) as the only Utah gymnasts to earn more than a 10.0 on balance beam.
O’Keefe is used to success on the event. She won the region and Pac-12 beam title last year and was a second-team All-American on beam as a rookie.
But Saturday’s performance could have a lasting impact beyond individual accolades.
O’Keefe’s effort gave the Utes a score of 49.725 on beam, just shy of the team record of 49.775 set against UCLA in 2020.
How the Utes would react to their mistakes was the biggest question before the meeting against Stanford. Was it a signal that Utah’s consistent dominance of the beam was going to fade this year or was it something of a rare day off. Heck, there were even discussions, maybe something was wrong with the beam. (Coach Tom Farden assured that all was well after inspecting the beam after the competition).
On Saturday, concerns were allayed as the Utes worked the beam with confidence again.
“Don’t talk to the kicker,” Farden said of his practice tactics for the week. “We didn’t make much of it or just sit there and say, ‘Oh my God, the sky is falling on us.'”
The beam wasn’t the only area the Utes improved in a week ago. The uneven bars, where they scored a 49.4, were also improved while the floor (49.425) and vault (49.125) were strong despite some errors.
One of them was O’Keefe’s 9.825 on the floor as she landed short on her pass, a move you could almost expect after the exhausting emotional exertion on beam, although she didn’t take the easy excuse.
“It was just one of those things that happens,” she said. “I felt good but I just forgot a few of my techniques.”
Farden was disappointed that Utes didn’t keep up the momentum on the beam, but overall he likes the way his team finished January.
“It wasn’t a fatal thing, I just wanted a little more,” Farden said.
Taking the last two meetings together, it looks like the Utes are ready to give him what he wants.