The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2022 Utah Red Rocks

UTAH RED ROCKS

Super Seniors

Alexia Burch

VT
UB
BB

  • #1 returning score on VT (9.931)

  • #3 returning score on UB (9.838)

  • #4 returning score on BB (9.888)

Sydney Soloski

FX

  • #1 returning score on FX (9.950)

Seniors

Cammy Hall

VT

  • #2 returning score on VT (9.881)

Cristal Isa

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #2 returning score on UB (9.919)

  • #3 returning score on BB (9.938)

  • #6 returning score on FX (9.844), VT (9.838)

Adrienne Randall

BB
FX

  • #4 returning score on BB (9.888)

  • Competed 6 FXs in 2021, avg 9.802

Juniors

Jillian Hoffman

VT

  • Did not compete in 2021 w/ shoulder injury

  • Competed 4 FXs in 2020

Maile O'Keefe

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #1 returning score on BB (9.975), UB (9.925)

  • #3 returning score on FX (9.919)

  • #4 returning score on VT (9.875)

Abby Paulson

UB
BB
FX

  • #2 returning score on BB (9.950)

  • #4 returning score on FX (9.900), UB (9.831)

Jaedyn Rucker

VT
UB
FX

  • #2 returning score on FX (9.925), VT (9.881)

  • Competed 1 UB in 2021 for 9.725

Sophomores

Jaylene Gilstrap


  • Competed 5 FXs in 2021, NQS of 9.806

  • Competed 1 BB for 9.700

Alani Sabado

VT
UB

  • #5 returning score on UB (9.819)

  • Competed 1 VT in 2021 for 9.800

Lucy Stanhope

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • #5 returning score on FX (9.888), VT (9.869)

  • #6 returning score on BB (9.838)

  • Competed 1 UB in 2021 for 9.275

First Years

Kara Eaker

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • GAGE

  • 2-time world beam finalist

Grace McCallum

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • Twin City Twisters

  • 13th AA, 2021 Olympic Games Q

Amelie Morgan

VT
UB
BB
FX

  • The Academy

  • 4th AA, 2021 European Championship

Sage Thompson

UB
BB
FX

  • Olympus

  • 1st UB, 2019 L10s

RANKING HISTORY
2021 – 3rd
2020 – 4th
2019 – 7th
2018 – 5th
2017 – 5th
2016 – 9th
2015 – 2nd
2014 – 7th
2013 – 9th
2012 – 5th

2021 IN REVIEW

The 2021 season was, in all respects, a victory for Utah. A run of 12 consecutive 197s to end the season, reaching the final four, and coming less than three tenths from a championship was a big deal. But more than a good year, the 2021 effort (continuing on from the 2020 partial season) seemed to signal a broader change of tier as Utah moved back to the big time. 

For most of the last decade+, Utah has been stuck in the secondary tier of contenders: definitely one of the top teams, favored to make Super Six, but not a likely champion, probably going to finish fifth. (Even in 2015, that second-place finish was a huge surprise rather than the expectation for that roster.) Now, Utah is starting to look like a winner again. 

DEPARTED ROUTINES

Emilie LeBlanc – UB, BB

THE NEW ONES

It has been a long time since Utah had a class this full of elites, and expect to see a big ol’ heap of routines coming out of this first-year class of four. Olympian Grace McCallum is a sure bet to deliver huge scores in college, particularly on bars and floor. But also all of the events. The noteworthy compositional development of Friday’s Red Rocks Preview was McCallum vaulting the round-off 1/2 on tuck 1/2, which we haven’t seen from her since qualification at 2018 worlds. I’m enjoying this trend of elites coming to college and not doing their Yurchenkos. It’s an interesting choice as it’s a difficult vault to stick and maintain toe point on, but if it seems more likely to get scores for her than a Y1.5…

Kara Eaker has all the tools necessary to be one of the best in college gymnastics, where the removal of some of those elite-level compositional trouble skills will allow her beautiful gymnastic ability to stand by itself without caveat. And I don’t just mean those infamous ring elements. Eaker spent much of 2021 vaulting the tucked Yurchenko 1.5, which was kind of an issue for elite but would be a great 10.0-start option for a college lineup. Obviously, best-in-the-country beam is a given, but there’s a good chance we’ll see her make all four lineups.

British elite and now Olympic medalist Amelie Morgan is another who should provide at least a possibility on most or all of the events. Because her difficulty is not going to be as high on vault and floor, I’d rank those as less likely for her, but on bars and beam—the events that got her onto the Olympic team—she’ll make a compelling case for the six. Calm and solidity on beam has been the hallmark for Morgan as an elite (so of course she was the one who fell in the Olympic TF), and you’d normally consider her a lock there if that lineup weren’t going to be so hard to make.

The lone non-elite in the group is Sage Thompson, though in terms of potential college contribution, we shouldn’t see a large gap between her and the others. There are plenty of top teams where Thompson would compete the all-around in college. Probably not this one, but do expect to see her in the final bars lineup, and floor should present a compelling possibility given the supply of E passes she has to work with.

2022 PROJECTION

Improvement.

Utah has lost so little in terms of routines, while bringing in three top-quality elites, that it’s difficult to envision this team going anywhere but up in 2022. Every lineup receives an upgrade, in some cases a significant one, and Utah will be a favorite to reach the championship again this season.

The one question is, how much room is there left to grow? Utah finished third last year and is going to be better this year but will also be running up against the likes of Florida in very much the same position, as well as defending champion Michigan, and Oklahoma, and and and…

Given the national circumstances, it’s possible that Utah gets better and finishes in the same place as last season. The realistic high for this team this season is a championship, but it’s going to take all this talent fully translating into healthy, refined lineups where skill difficulty is matched by execution and all the best scorers (*cough*, most famous names, *cough* this sport is fine) are all there at the same time.

BY EVENT

VAULT

2021 Event Ranking: 7

Lineup locks: Alexia Burch, Jaedyn Rucker, Grace McCallum, Cammy Hall
Lineup options: Lucy Stanhope, Kara Eaker, Maile O’Keefe, Cristal Isa, Alani Sabado, Amelie Morgan

Utah looks to have a pathway to six 10.0 starts on vault this year, which would be an upgrade over the 2021 lineup that started with a couple Yfulls. Four Y1.5s should return from last season with Alexia Burch, Jaedyn Rucker, Lucy Stanhope, and Cammy Hall. It’s not a guarantee—there were a number of times last season that Maile O’Keefe’s full outscored some of those 1.5s and would be the stronger choice—but the intent will be to have all of those 10.0 starts back in the six.

McCallum’s Servente (the round-off 1/2 on tuck 1/2, but that takes so long to type that it’s never going to happen in a live blog, so let’s go with Servente) will be expected to join a lineup that would also love to have an Eaker vault to round out a full complement of 10.0s. But as mentioned, O’Keefe’s full could very well get in there again, and Cristal Isa vaulted every week last season for mostly 9.8s. An upgrade to the vault score this year probably involves Isa getting bumped from the lineup in favor of a 10.0, but if all the 10.0s don’t materialize, Utah will at least enjoy the options to keep vault on pace with last year’s scores.

BARS

2021 Event Ranking: 15

Lineup locks: Maile O’Keefe, Grace McCallum, Cristal Isa, Sage Thompson
Lineup options: Kara Eaker, Amelie Morgan, Abby Paulson, Alani Sabado, Alexia Burch, Jaedyn Rucker, Lucy Stanhope

Bars is the event most in need of upgrade from last season—and most likely to get it. Maile O’Keefe and Cristal Isa are the only returners whose lineup spots should be considered safe as both are going to get at least as many 9.9s as not. But as for the rest of the lineup, it was far too 9.825y last season and needs a refresh. The best-case bars team probably has the four first-years joining O’Keefe and Isa in the final six.

We’ll definitely see McCallum, who is going big with three E elements and a full point of bonus this year. She doesn’t need nearly all of that, but the composition is infinitely manageable for her. It’s the kind of routine where, if you were to make it less difficult, you’d be adding in more cast handstands, and it would probably score lower. Sage Thompson will also stand out in this lineup for her legs-together positions on her Pak, Shaposh, and DLO. She could end up being one of the best scorers.

It’s not a definite that we’ll see Eaker here—she did not do bars or vault at the preview—but when considering a potential college routine, she has the smooth Jaeger, Pak, DLO work to make a very clean set. Amelie Morgan should provide another option (of note, she’s retaining the Bhardwaj), and we’ll see if that outscores some of the returning 9.8s, or whether Paulson, Burch, and Sabado are still part of the top-scoring six. Paulson did look like part of the cleanest six at the RRP.  

BEAM

2021 Event Ranking: 3

Lineup locks: Kara Eaker, Maile O’Keefe, Abby Paulson, Cristal Isa, Adrienne Randall
Lineup options: Grace McCallum, Alexia Burch, Amelie Morgan, Lucy Stanhope, Sage Thompson

Beam was easily Utah’s best event again last season and isn’t really in need of new routines for 2022. Too bad, you got em. Coming up with a six is going to be a real bloodbath. Clearly, Kara Eaker is going to be there. If she’s not getting 9.950+, you did it wrong. I would have also considered McCallum a 100% lock for this lineup before the preview, but she didn’t necessarily show a top-6 quality routine there. I still think she makes it and that she needs to make it. Essential for Utah’s quest to be a championship team again is ensuring that the people with the most talent and most scoring potential are actually in the lineup and able to live up to it. “Grace McCallum got the second-best beam score for the US in the Olympic team final but didn’t happen to make the Utah lineup” isn’t the path.

Amelie Morgan is showing an enjoyable round-off back handspring + layout stepout mount series that made her go up a couple notches in the Official BBS Notch Standings. As long as Utah has workable jumps for her, she makes a very compelling case. But which gymnasts do all of these new routines knock out? From last year’s final beam lineup, Stanhope will have an uphill climb to come back, and Burch may get pushed out (even though she got three 9.9s last season, a couple from the leadoff spot), but even if both become backups, that’s still seven people to cram into six spots. Eesh.

FLOOR

2021 Event Ranking: 4

Lineup locks: Sydney Soloski, Grace McCallum, Jaedyn Rucker, Maile O’Keefe
Lineup options: Kara Eaker, Abby Paulson, Lucy Stanhope, Sage Thompson, Amelie Morgan, Cristal Isa, Adrienne Randall,

Utah has a solid floor group returning, one that scored well last season, but also one that could use some upgrades from the first-year class. McCallum will surely be in the lineup given her tumbling, delivering the best scores along with Soloski and Rucker. That’s a new 9.9 right there. Meanwhile, Eaker’s ability to deliver quick and clean twisting skills should provide for plenty of pass options and another irresistible entry. We didn’t see Thompson on floor at the preview, but I would also keep her in mind as another viable first-year option. If there’s room, at least. Considering that Soloski, Rucker, and O’Keefe should all be locks to return and that Paulson was starting to go consistently 9.875 and 9.900 last season, there may not be too many openings for new athletes.

But also, given the national landscape, 9.875 is not a floor-lock kind of score anymore. It’s 9.9+ or bust. Weekly 49.500 is the expectation.

As on vault, I’d say Isa probably gets knocked out of the floor lineup this year, though she’ll remain an option. Lucy Stanhope is a compelling choice but will have to show consistency with landings to get in there, and sadly I doubt we’ll see much of Jaylene Gilstrap. She was touch-and-go last season and then appeared at the RRP in a boot. We weep for the leaps we miss.

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