Despite a disappointing finish to their season, Utah gymnasts have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their future

The Utah gymnastics squad’s goal for the season was clear.

Win the whole thing.

Stocked with experience, talent and a handful of Olympians, the Red Rocks started the season ranked No. 4 in the country – and they thought they were much better than that. So as they reflect back on a third-place finish at last week’s NCAA championships, is there a feeling of disappointment?

Of course. The Utes are too competitive not to feel a little sting. But the Utah gymnasts were already starting to find positives in their season, the satisfaction of knowing they felt they gave their best shot against an extremely tough field.

There is also hope for the future, too, as coach Tom Farden noted this week before hitting the recruiting trail.

“Every year we go into it feeling like we had some things to work on whether it was mechanics, strategy or physical or emotional preparedness,” he said. “We are doing a good job of getting closer.”

“Closer,” of course is his reference to a national title, something the Utes have not won since 1995. But two third-place finishes plus a lot of talent returning should put the Utes right in the middle of things next year.

The Utes must replace Cammy Hall, Alexia Burch, Adrienne Randall and Sydney Soloski, but they retain Cristal Isa for a fifth year and welcome two-time junior Olympic floor medalist Makenna Smith.

It remains to be seen, though, if Jillian Hoffman will return after tearing her Achilles tendon earlier in the year. It is her third season-ending injury, as she suffered major injuries to her foot and shoulder previously. No decision has been made, but Farden hinted she might not return, given the chance that she could tear her other Achilles.

“You do not know if they are going to trust that foot again and if she would tear the other,” he said. “It sucks because it was like our fanbase had a chance to see her talent and then she was hurt again.”

The biggest question going into the 2022 season was how Utah’s rookie class of Kara Eaker, Sage Thompson, Grace McCallum and Amelie Morgan would handle college competition.

All proved they could do so. Eaker’s season was limited after she sprained her ankle in the first meet, but she came back to be an integral part of the beam lineup. Morgan was a consistent high scorer on the uneven bars and beam and Thompson was solid on vault and bars. McCallum, an Olympic silver medalist, came in with the highest expectations. She struggled with consistency early but was one of Utah’s best in the second half of the season.

The Utes had some disappointments, such as losing at Arizona for the first time and to Cal, but earned a piece of the regular-season Pac-12 title in addition to the Pac-12 championship and the regional championship.

At nationals, Rucker won the NCAA vault title and the Utes finished a spot higher than they went into the meet.

“Any time you go to nationals and have a chance to win is great,” Farden said. “But we lost two important gymnasts, Eaker and Hoffman, and we were still able to do what we did. Overall, this was a very good year for Utah gymnastics. ”

If anything, the season might have revealed how important consistency in coaching gymnastics is, a factor that often does not get its due.

The Utes had two new assistants, Jimmy Pratt and Myia Hambrick, which could have attributed to some of Utah’s issues on the vault, especially since other teams such as Oklahoma and Florida have staffs that have been together for a long time.

“That can be a difference-maker,” Farden said. “I have been coaching bars for a long time and no one comes in and says ‘Why are we doing things this way or that way,’ because they know the system. I do not care who you are it can make a difference. ”

So it seems going forward consistency on the floor and in the coaching areas will be big for the Utes.

With those pieces in place, Farden remains encouraged about the Utes’ direction.

“We are losing some consistent 9.9s and amazing leaders,” Farden said. “But we are a program that does not shy away from the challenge of replacing gymnasts like that, that is why these athletes are here.”

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