LIVE BLOG: Best of Utah

Welcome to the first quad of 2021! I have mixed feelings about whether or not this meet (or even the entire season) should be taking place, but I doubt you came to this live blog for a lecture—and it’s not like I would be able to say it any more eloquently than Emily M already did—so I’ll skip my feelings and get straight into the meet.

This should be a fun one. I’m a huge fan of intrastate collegiate sports rivalries, so the more “Best of [State]” meets we see, the happier I am. Utah is of course the heavy favorite in this match-up, coming into this season as the defending Pac-12 champion and ranked No. 4 in the country. The Utes return 17 of their 24 final 2020 routines, including the entire No. 2-ranked beam lineup, so a repeat performance as conference champs and a trip to Four on the Floor should absolutely be a realistic goal for this squad. The lineups are headlined by returning star power in Cristal Isa, Maile O’Keefe, Abby Paulson and Sydney Soloski, but rounded out by under-the-radar rocks such as Adrienne Randall and Alexia Burch. Freshman Lucy Stanhope is expected to play a big role this year after competing three events at Red Rock Preview, while Alani Sabado and Jaylene Gilstrap were limited to one event each. Keep an eye on wildcard Jaedyn Rucker, a former level 10 superstar who missed all of her freshman year to injury but has looked fantastic in preseason training.

No. 17 BYU is always an exciting team due to its large roster and heavy reliance on event specialists, and this year should be no different. Following the graduation of Shannon Evans, I expect Abbey (Miner) Alder and Abby (Boden) Stainton to take over the leadership role as senior all arounders. Preseason training footage has been sparse so it’s difficult to know who’s healthy and who’s training what, but Sadie Miner, Helody Cyrenne and Haley Pitou all contributed on multiple events in 2020 and should be back to play major roles as well. Specialists to watch include Avery Bennett (vault), Anyssa Alvarado (bars), Elease Rollins (beam) and Brittney Vitkauskas (floor), and I’ll also be keeping an eye out for injury returners Angel Zhong and Allix Mason.

No. 23 Southern Utah is filled with underrated stars and unique gymnastics, led by junior all arounder Karley McClain, who peaked at 39.525 a season ago. The Thunderbirds are particularly exciting to watch on vault, where I’m hoping to see Molly Jozwiakowski debut her tucked Tsuk 1.5, and on bars, where Shylen Murakami shines. SUU lost only six routines from last year’s lineups and brings in six freshmen to replace them, so expect to see them make a run at a top 20 ranking this year. In the meet preview, head coach Scotty Bauman implied that underclassmen would be featured more than upperclassmen at the beginning of the season, so I’m curious to see the extent of that tonight.

Utah State will look to senior all arounder Leighton Varnadore to lead the team in 2021, but the Aggies won’t have last year’s MRGC Freshman of the Year Sofi Sullivan, who has opted out of this season along with fellow sophomore Tori Loomis. Sullivan’s absence is a big deal, but increased contributions from Maia Fishwick, Jessica Gutierrez and Rebecca Wells should help to soften the blow. I’m also hoping to see routines from freshmen Brianna Brooks, Eve Jackson and Angel Stuart tonight.

We are blessed, gym fans, for this neutral-site quad meet is somehow airing on a channel with decent commentary that’s easily accessible to fans instead of the platform-that-shall-not-be-named. Tune into BYUtv at 7 p.m. MT/9 p.m. ET and follow along with scores here.

A couple of hours before start time, Utah posted an Instagram story showing Burch and Rucker in boots. It could just be precautionary, but something to keep an eye on.

We have in-person commentary, which is quite a choice during these times, but the commentators are sitting about 10 feet apart, so that’s something I suppose?

Rotation 1: SUU Vault, Utah Bars, BYU Beam, USU Floor

Le. Varnadore USU FX: Double tuck to open, well-controlled. Double pike, a little less control but still pretty clean. I’m not a huge fan of this new leo… Several straddle jumps, one looked a little short of horizontal. Back 1.5 to front layout, clean. Good start for USU. 9.725

Zhong BYU BB: Good to see her back after her Achilles injury! We’re seeing a lot of her standing around instead of them showing actual gymnastics from the other teams, but this is BYUtv so that’s to be expected. Anyway… Nice split positions on her leaps, a bit of a wobble after her full turn. BHS LOSO, slight check. Front aerial is nice but then she has a balance check on her choreo.  RO 1.5 dismount, stick.  9.625

Alfaro SUU VT: Beautiful Y-full, slides back on the landing but it was really nice in the air. 9.775

Burch Utah UB: Apparently she’s not injured? Nice Jaeger. Overshoot is nice. DLO with feet separation but sticks it. Nice routine. 9.8

McClain SUU VT: Y-full with a hop in place on the landing, some soft knees in the air but overall pretty clean. 9.75

Miner-Alder BYU BB: Front toss is clean. BHS LOSO very steady. Slight check on the full turn but she finesses it well. Another slight check after her leap combo. Side aerial back full dismount, stuck. 9.8

Toomey USU FX: Front double full to open, maybe a little short on the rotation? Her leaps look a little short to me too. Back 1.5 front full with an awkward landing. 9.65

O’Keefe Utah UB: Nice Maloney to Pak, a little short on a couple handstands. Double Arabian dismount with a small step.

Smith SUU VT: Yurchenko full-on back tuck, step back on the landing. 9.775

Isa Utah UB: Huge Ray, great bail handstand. Double layout with a small slide back. Nice routine! 9.85

Jackson USU FX: Double pick to open with a large, uncontrolled step back, steps on the line but doesn’t get an OOB. Front layout front full with another large step, this time she clearly went over the line. Very high double tuck to close but yet another uncontrolled landing and OOB. A ton of potential for the freshman though! 9.425

Boden-Stainton BYU BB: Front kickover and misses connection to next element. Pretty leaps! Goes for the series again and hits it this time, front toss to BHS. RO 1.5 dismount, stick. Good recovery. 9.725

Fishwick USU FX: Opens with a front double full to punch front, a little underrotated but saves it. Front layout front full, low squatty landing but again saves it. 9.675

After 1: Utah 49.000, SUU 48.625, USU 48.475, BYU 48.450

Scoring feels a bit tight compared to the SEC last night (not surprising), but since this is a quad meet we’re not seeing every routine so it’s hard to tell whether or not that’s warranted. An interesting thing to keep an eye on is that SUU only put up five gymnasts on vault–perhaps there are some injuries or illness concerns? Autumn DeHarde’s absence is also worrying for Utah State…she isn’t even listed on the live scores (the rest of the team is there) so that’s not a great sign.

Rotation 2: USU Vault, SUU Bars, Utah Beam, BYU Floor

Bain-Heaton BYU FX: Nice opening double tuck straight out of the roundoff. Rudi, well-controlled landing. Front layout to front full punch front, definitely some soft knees in there and a little awkward on the landing. 9.9 feels high for the scoring in this meet…

Nipp SUU UB: Beautiful handstands! Catches her Jaeger way too close but somehow saves it. Beautiful bail handstand. Nice body position in the double layout with a tiny hop. It’s a shame about that Jaeger because that was a gorgeous routine otherwise. 9.725

Rojas USU VT: Y-full, slightly piked down and a small hop but pretty clean in the air. 9.75

Burch Utah BB: BHS LOSO, right on. Big check after her leap combo. Cat leap to front aerial, small check. Gainer full dismount, stuck with a lean forward. 9.75

Brooks USU VT: Y-full, not a lot of amplitude and some soft knees. Small hop back on the landing. 9.725

Isa Utah BB: Candle mount. Small check after her front toss but manages to connect it to her beat jump. BHS LOSO LOSO, great! Good positions on her straddle jumps. Sticks her dismount. Great routine! 9.9

Boden-Stainton BYU FX: Double pike, slightly uncontrolled on her lunge out of it. Back 1.5 to front full, good control. HUGE double back for her last pass. Fun routine! 9.875

Lo. Varnadore USU VT: Beautiful Y-full, it’s great to see her competing again! Stuck landing. 9.775

Murakami SUU UB: Jaeger to bail, very nice. FTDT, very slight foot movement on the dismount. Beautiful! 9.85

S. Miner BYU FX: Beautiful double layout to open, good landing. Back 1.5 to front full, another good landing. 9.85

O’Keefe Utah BB: Side aerial LOSO, dead on. Beautiful split positions in her leaps! Even her full turn is beautiful. Cat leap to side aerial to back full dismount, stuck. I honestly didn’t see any deductions in that routine. 9.925

Le. Varnadore USU VT: Y-half with a step back, disappointing after seeing so many stuck vaults in training. 9.775

Coutu SUU UB: I missed most of it but I did see a release move caught way too close. Actually I’m not sure this was Coutu since she’s not showing up in the scores…maybe it was Schwartze, who got a 9.6?

Paulson Utah BB: Side aerial LOSO with maybe the slightest check. Cat leap to side aerial to back full, as good as Maile’s. 9.925

Vitkauskas BYU FX: Front double full, a bit uncontrolled on the lunge forward. Back 1.5 to front layout, nice form in the air and good landing. Rudi to end the routine, another clean pass. 9.85

Miner-Alder BYU FX: Double layout, well controlled with some leg separation. Back 1.5 to front layout, clean. Double pike to close, really nice routine to close out an excellent rotation for BYU. 9.9

After 2: Utah 98.375, BYU 97.725, SUU 97.625, USU 97.400

Athletes apparently performed out of order for SUU on vault so there are IMPORTANT CONFERENCES HAPPENING. In other news, that was a nice bounce back rotation for both BYU and Utah.

Rotation 3: BYU Vault, USU Bars, SUU Beam, Utah Floor

Le. Varnadore USU UB: Leg separation on the Pak, messy on the bail handstand. A couple missed handstand. Big hop on the dismount. 9.575

Isa Utah FX: Big double tuck to open, lots of amplitude. Double pike with a slide back on the landing. Good straddle positions on her leaps. Back 1.5 to front layout, a bit of an awkward landing. 9.85

Hernandez SUU BB: Front aerial, slight wobble before the connected beat jump. That shouldn’t count as a connection but the judges won’t take it. BHS LOSO and she’s off the beam. Side aerial to back tuck full, step on the landing. 9.125

Zhong BYU VT: Lots of height and distance on her Y-full but takes a fairly large hop back. 9.775

Smith SUU BB: Roundoff back layout with a leg up. Side aerial and falls off the beam. Not great split position on her jump…but an excellent dismount and landing to finish the routine strong. 8.85

Rucker Utah FX: So happy to see her healthy! HUGE full-in to open, well-controlled. One of her leaps was maybe a little short of horizontal. Front layout to front full, not super clean in the air but controls it well. Only two tumbling passes but it’s great to see her out there. 9.875

Bennett BYU VT: Yurchenko full-on tuck off, really nice with just a small hop back on the landing. 9.75

Murakami SUU BB: Slight check after her full turn. BHS LOSO BHS, nice! Another small check after her leaps. Side aerial to back tuck full, stuck. 9.825

Miner-Alder BYU VT: Y-full, hop back on the landing. 9.85

Gutierrez USU UB: Maloney with some form issues. Bail handstand is nice but has some short handstands. Double layout with a hop back. 9.775

Nipp SUU BB: Front aerial to beat jump, super clean. BHS LOSO, large check but covers it well. Back leg low on her split full. Gainer full dismount, stuck with a small lean to the side. 9.8

Stanhope Utah FX: Pink panther! Opens with a full-in, a little messy but good landing. Double tuck second pass. She seems a little jittery? Last pass is a Back 1.5 to front layout, lands a little short but controls it. 9.85

S. Miner BYU VT: Y-1.5, lands short and has to take a large step back. 9.725

McClain SUU BB: BHS LOSO, solid. Side aerial with a very slight check. Nice leaps. RO 1.5 dismount, really nice and stuck! 9.85

Rojas USU UB: Maloney to bail handstand, a little short on some handstands. Beautiful DLO with a small hop. 9.825

Vultaggio SUU BB: A bit short on her first split jump but connects it to a fun back toss-type thing that I can’t describe very well right now. BHS LOSO LOSO and I have NO IDEA how she stayed on the beam because she looked off from the start. And then she did a cartwheel and fell off the beam. RO 1.5 dismount is stuck but that third fall is going to hurt. 9.275

O’Keefe Utah FX: Beautiful double pike to open. Front layout to front full, very clean. Beautiful leap pass. Back 1.5 to front layout, a little off. 9.9

Brooks USU UB: Huge Ray, barely catches it. A bit short on last handstand and her DLO is a bit wild. Hop in place on the landing. 9.775

Soloski Utah FX: Overrotates her DLO but manages to just stay in bounds. Front layout to front full, leaps forward out of it. She clearly has a ton of energy tonight. Back 1.5 to front lay, another uncontrolled landing but better than the other two. 9.775

Fishwick USU UB: Nice Maloney to bail handstand. Overrotates her double front dismount and has to take a large step forward. 9.8

After 3: Utah 147.725, BYU 146.525, USU 146.375, SUU 145.500

Oof, that rotation is going to hurt for Southern Utah, but Utah and Utah State should be happy with their events. BYU and USU are pretty close for 2nd place, but with the Aggies going to beam we’ll see how the last rotation goes!

Rotation 4: Utah Vault, BYU Bars, USU Beam, SUU Floor

O’Keefe Utah VT: Lots of distance on her Y-full, a bit piked down and a step back. 9.775

Zhong BYU UB: Jaeger with some soft knees, straight into a bail. Double layout, stuck! She looks thrilled. I’m a sucker for injury returners so this is awesome to see. 9.8

Wells USU BB: Nice side aerial. Pretty good split positions on her leaps. BHS LOSO with soft knees but otherwise solid. Double twist dismount, stuck! Great way to start the rotation for the Aggies. 9.775

Isa Utah VT: Almost sticks her Y-full but slides back a little bit while saluting. 9.8

Beeston BYU UB: Gienger to bail, nice. Maybe a little short on her last handstand. DLO with a slightly hop back. 9.8

Aragon USU BB: Really pretty leaps. BHS LOSO but she’s off from the start and can’t save it. Nice front toss to split jump. BHS 1.5 dismount with a step. It’s a shame about that fall because it was a nice routine otherwise. 9.050

Stanhope Utah VT: Nice Y-full with a step back. I hope we’ll see the double full at some point! 9.8

Schwartze SUU FX: Front double full to open, a bit uncontrolled on the lunge but the judges probably won’t care. Rudi to LOSO, pretty. Nice routine. 9.75

Rucker Utah VT: HUGE Y-full, step back on the landing but she has so much potential. 9.825

Brooks USU BB: Front aerial to BHS BHS, a bit slow on the connection but I doubt there will be a deduction. Split jump to BHS swingdown to back shoulder roll, nice combo and well executed. Side aerial to back full, small slide on the landing. 9.65

Hall Utah VT: Y-1.5, her legs were a bit wild in the air but she managed to stick it. 9.9

Miner-Alder BYU UB: Nice Jaeger to bail. A bit short on last handstand. A little low on the DLO and takes a tiny hop on the landing. 9.725

Jozwiakowski SUU FX: Front double full to punch front, really nice. Double full second pass, clean landing. Rudi to finish, another good landing. Nice routine! 9.825

Dittmar USU BB: Press mount is impressive. BHS LOSO, right on. Beat jump to split 3/4, solid. Small check after her full turn. RO BHS 1.5 dismount with a step. 9.550 feels a bit low, unless I missed something?

Pitou BYU UB: Really nice Jaeger and a well-controlled bail handstand. FTDT was a bit messy and she had a hop on the landing. 9.825

McClain SUU FX: Double pike to open, moves her front foot slightly but otherwise controlled on the landing. Back 1.5 to front lay, nice. Double tuck to finish, very clean. 9.875

Bayles USU BB: Front aerial with a check before her split jump, and then she falls. Repeats the front aerial and connects it to a BHS. RO 1.5 dismount with a step to the side. 8.7

Stainton BYU UB: Piked Jaeger to bail is nice but she’s short on all her handstands. Very aggressive! FTDT is stuck. 9.825

Le. Varnadore USU BB: BHS LOSO with some bent knees but otherwise solid. Front aerial, large check, then a beat jump that really shouldn’t get any connection credit. Split leap split leap combo is nice. Gainer tuck 1.5 dismount with a small hop. 9.7

Final: Utah 196.900, BYU 195.700, SUU 194.325, USU 194.100

Utah’s 196.900 puts them into 2nd place nationally behind only Florida, though Oklahoma has a good chance of knocking them down to 3rd tomorrow. I think they’ll certainly take that. BYU didn’t reach 196 but had strong vault and floor rotations to build off of. Southern Utah and Utah State both had rough beam rotations but the other events were all strong so it feels okay for the first meet of the year.

Isa edged out O’Keefe for the all around title by only .025. Hall won vault, Mayson Bentley of SUU won bars with a 9.9 (her routine was not shown, unfortunately), O’Keefe and Paulson tied for the beam title, and Miner-Alder and O’Keefe tied for floor.

Thanks for joining! Here’s to more Best of [State] meets in the future.

Live blog by Jenna King

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