Red Rocks advance to Final Four at NCAA Nationals

Red Rocks advance to Final Four at NCAA Nationals

FORT WORTH, Tex. (ABC4 Sports) – The #5 Utah gymnastics team led from start to finish and is moving on to the Final Four of the NCAA National Championships.

The Utes turned in a score of 197.9375 and beat #4 Florida, #1 Oklahoma and #8 Alabama to advance to the finals Saturday. Utah, Florida, #2 LSU and #3 Cal will compete for the national title at 1:30 p.m. on ABC4.

“We’ve been through a lot this year,” said first year head coach Carly Dockendorf. “They’ve become such strong women, and their character showed tonight. It means a lot to them, their families and all of our fans that have been supporting us this entire year.”

Utah gymnastics team shoots for national title

This is the fourth straight year Utah has made it to the Final Four. The Red Rocks are the only school to qualify for all 48 national championship meets.

Utah got off to a great start on its strongest event, the beam. Maile O’Keefe and Abby Paulson both scored 9.95 to give the Utes the lead after the first rotation.

On floor, the Utes kept its lead led by O’Keefe and Jaylene Gilstrap, who both turned in performances that scored 9.95s. Paulson and Grace McCallum backed those routines up with 9.90s themselves.

Utah had struggled on vault earlier in the season, and on Thursday, they again did not perform well. McCallum (9.775) and Jaedyn Rucker (9.6125) both stumbled on their landings. But Makenna Smith and Ella Zirbes both scored 9.9125 to keep Utah at the top of the standings.

Then Utes then clinched the victory with a solid performance on the bars. Zirbes led the way with a 9.925, while Smith contributed with a 9.9125. Alani Sabado sealed Utah’s win with a 9.900 on the final routine of the night.

Makenna Smith posted a career-high score in the all-around with a 39.6735. But she finished second in the evening session behind Florida’s Leanne Wong (39.7000).

2-time defending champion Oklahoma had a disastrous night on the vault, and failed to make it to the Final Four in its first defeat of the season.

Utah’s score of 197.9375 was the second highest score of the night, behind only the early session’s winner, LSU. The Tigers scored 198.1125, and will compete for its first title in school history.

Utes advance to Nationals for 48th straight time

Utah has won nine total national championships, but none since 1995. Cal has never won a national title, while Florida hasn’t won it all since the Gators won three straight championships from 2013-2015.

The Utes lost to LSU and Cal in the regular season, and finished second behind Florida in the NCAA Regionals two weeks ago. But the Red Rocks then defeated Cal at the Pac-12 Championships, and edged out the Gators in the national semifinals Thursday.

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