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Arizona GymCats defeat No. 4 Utah for the first time ever

arizona-gymcats-defeat-utah-first-time-historic-recap-analysis Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Eight attempts came up short. On the ninth try, the Arizona GymCats did something no one in their program had ever done.

“Arizona gymnastics has been a team for a little under 50 years,” said head coach John Court. “No one has beaten Utah ever in the history of Arizona gymnastics. They made history tonight.”

The fourth-ranked Red Rocks came in averaging a score of 197.568 per meet. The No. 69 GymCats average 195.370. On this night, Arizona walked away with the 196.850 to 196.775 victory and they did it without some of their top performers.

Freshman all-arounder Alysen Fears competed earlier in the week at California, but she was out injured on Friday night. Sophomore Jessica Castles is out for reasons Court would not disclose. In the past, that would have meant disaster for Arizona. The team simply did not have the depth to withstand the loss of seven routines that those two athletes typically perform. That is no longer the case.

“We’ve had to build and it’s just, it’s amazing what this group can do when they put their mind to things,” Court said. “If you would ask me if I would have thought this could happen after Aly went down. It looks like just an ankle sprain, which is great, but she’s our top all-arounder on our team, and we put our alternates in. We’ve talked about depth this year and being able to do that...and we showed up.”

The athletes were stunned.

“It’s amazing,” said sophomore Elena Deets. “I’m so proud of everyone on this team. And I mean, obviously, to win against Utah’s pretty insane, so that was awesome. Yeah, it’s just amazing.”

Deets performed in three events, getting a 9.900 on bars, a 9.800 on balance beam, and a 9.850 on the first floor exercise routine she has performed this season. The scores set a career high on bars and tied her career highs on balance beam and floor exercise.

Not only was her floor exercise vital considering the uncertainty around Castles and the injury to Fears, but Deets’ bar routine helped pick the team up after a fall by Bailey McCabe.

“I try not to let it really affect me too much if someone falls in front of me,” Deets said. “I usually visualize my routines, so I’m pretty good at just staying in my zone and knowing that I’ve done it so many times before, and I can just do it one more time.”

The GymCats scored at least 49 on all four events for the first time this season. They started strong with a 49.075 on vault, an event that is not always strong for them. Prior to this meet, their highest vault score this season came back in the opening meet at Southern Utah when they scored a 48.925.

“Obviously wanted to start strong on vault,” Court said. “We needed to do that. The vault performances, they’ve been good, maybe a little below. They’ve been average, but this was very good. This is what we are capable of doing.”

Despite the strong performance, Arizona was behind Utah by 0.275 after the first rotation.

It was even worse after the second rotation. Utah moved to vault. The visitors had a fall, but they were able to drop that score and ended with a 49.300. The 49.200 that Arizona put up on the uneven bars was its best score on the event this season, but it still meant the Red Rocks had added 0.100 to their lead after two rotations.

The lead grew even larger after the third rotation. Arizona moved to the balance beam where the GymCats have been very strong this season. They were even stronger against Utah, scoring a season high 49.275. Meanwhile, the Red Rocks were scoring 49.400 on the floor, adding another 0.125 to their lead. It looked like the meet was over, competitively speaking.

Even the best can make mistakes, though, and that’s exactly what Utah did on the balance beam. The Red Rocks had a fall earlier in the meet when Cammy Hall came up short of rotation and sat down her vault. Like Arizona on the bars, though, her teammates picked her up and Utah was able to drop that score.

Their luck ran out on the balance beam, though. First, it was Adrienne Randall. Her fall and major balance checks resulted in a severe hit with a score of 8.925. Utah was able to drop that score, but it didn’t help much because two athletes later, Cristal Isa also fell. The Red Rocks were forced to count her 9.075, giving them a 48.725 on the event.

Arizona didn’t let up on floor exercise. The GymCats were hitting their routines in a grand fashion. Their lowest score was a 9.800. They ended with a 49.300, making floor exercise their highest-scoring event of the meet and closing out the historic win.

“They’re a special group and they’re peaking at the right time,” Court said. And this was...an amazing performance and Utah’s an awesome team, and they have great odds to win the national championship. And the best thing about college athletics is anything can happen on a night. And tonight, it was our night. So we’re gonna enjoy it for sure.”

The group as a whole came together, but there were also standout performances from individual gymnasts. Utah’s Grace McCallum won the all-around competition with a 39.500, but both Malia Hargrove (39.450) and Emily Mueller (39.350) also had strong nights for Arizona.

“If I was a betting person, I would say Malia probably will get gymnast of the week,” Court said. “I think some awards will be coming Arizona’s way.”