UTAH UTES

Maile O’Keefe, Red Rocks Striking Balance Between Serious, Fun

Jan 22, 2023, 4:33 PM | Updated: 8:59 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s easy to assume one of the most dominate teams in the country across any sport would be drill-like at all times, but that’s hardly the case for the Red Rocks and star Maile O’Keefe who try to keep things fun.

Utah gymnastics has had 46 (going on 47) straight years of high-level success, but the secret to that success has been to take things seriously, but not that seriously.

Last weekend, O’Keefe was caught being silly while she and some of her teammates took in the Wasatch Classic quad-meet at the Maverik Center. O’Keefe’s dance moves were good enough to make the jumbotron which was a bit of a departure from how fans are used to seeing her on meet days.

Maile O’Keefe Having Fun On The Jumbotron

O’Keefe along with Red Rocks teammates Jaedyn Rucker and Cristal Isa spent their Saturday off at the Maverik Center having fun together, cheering on fellow gymnast friends from other schools and of course checking out some later competition in their season.

Naturally being surrounded by friends lightens the mood so O’Keefe decided to see if she could get on the jumbotron, an activity the gymnasts apparently partake in fairly frequently.

“I was surrounded by Jaedyn and Cristal and I think that’s who I am,” O’Keefe said. “At our basketball games at the Huntsman when they are trying to get people on the jumbotron- it’s just a fun thing that you can kind of relax and be yourself on. Nobody is really going to judge you for dancing crazy or having a dance battle on jumbotrons.”

Hilarity ensued however, when the jumbotron operator discovered a Minnesota gymnast also in attendance dancing it out. The picture began to switch between the two gymnasts and so a dance battle ensued.

“I didn’t really realize that at first,” O’Keefe said. “I just wanted to get on the jumbotron and then it would go back to her and then back to me and then back to her. It was fun having a little dance battle.”

That’s Just Maile

While most of us are used to just seeing “game face” Maile every weekend through the spring, her teammates say the goofiness displayed in the videos is actually closer to how they know O’Keefe. Isa took her own video of the event and says that seeing calm Maile is stranger to her than funny Maile.

“I will say stoic, calm Maile is weird for me to see,” Isa said. “She’s always normally pretty goofy. What we saw on the jumbotron is what she is normally like all the time. When she is calm during beam- it’s really different. I guess it makes sense the fans only see the composed side. She is goofy.”

Rucker agreed that fans and media only see one small part of who O’Keefe is.

“Maile outside of the gym is always like that,” Rucker said. “She’s fun. Me and her dance all the time together and then one of our teammates, Alani [Sabado] always tries to get on the jumbo screen. She wasn’t with us so we tried to do it by ourselves and then it came on and I don’t know what happened, she went crazy.”

Keeping Things Light But Taking It Serious

The 2023 Red Rocks are poised for another great year after returning a large majority of their talent that has grown up together the past two or three seasons. They also will have the resume behind them as their schedule is no joke.

Utah has already had a successful outing at home against LSU who was ranked No. 6 at the time. They also had their best showing ever at the Rio Tinto Best of Utah Meet last weekend. Now the No. 5 Red Rocks will be tested on the road in Norman, Oklahoma against the reigning National Champion Oklahoma Sooners.

As senior members of the 2023 Red Rocks team, O’Keefe, Rucker, and Isa feel like the success their teams have had is due to working hard, but making the work fun so it doesn’t become too daunting. All three leaders agreed there is good balance around this year’s team and that it’s allowed everyone to just go out and perform with little stress.

“Our freshman class is pretty chill and relaxed like Sarah Krump and MaKenna Smith,” O’Keefe said. “The two-different spectrums are like the super-seniors. Abby Brenner and Isa are pretty relaxed and loose, keep things easy-going. It’s weird you’re relying on the little ones but also the older girls too.”

Isa mentioned the importance of finding the fun in the sport and thinks that’s why the Red Rocks have been so successful for so long. Everyone that comes through their doors is passionate about gymnastics but doesn’t think too long and hard the legacy most days. It’s just about going out and having a great time doing what they all love to do.

“I think it’s important to have fun because we do have to be passionate about the sport if we’re going to be good at the sport,” Isa said. “I think when we are loose it’s less pressure and I think when we are serious, we really do feel the pressure. Sometimes that can be good, sometimes that can be bad, but I think to keep it more consistent we try to have fun.”

Despite the fact that it doesn’t always show on meet day due to being in the “zone”, Rucker says their group is full of fun and bubbly personalities when there isn’t a meet they are trying to win.

 

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“I’d say most of our personalities are fun and bubbly even though you don’t really see it during competition because obviously we have to focus,” Rucker said. “We’re there for a reason, we’re not there to mess around, but all of our personalities are pretty much fun, bubbly, and positive.”

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports

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Maile O’Keefe, Red Rocks Striking Balance Between Serious, Fun