Utah Women Make History Over The Weekend

Feb 27, 2023, 11:06 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – It’s always a great day to be a Ute and it was a particularly sweet weekend if you were a female student-athlete. The women of Utah made some noteworthy history over the weekend, wowing their audiences.

Utah gymnastics and Utah women’s basketball reached new heights Friday and Saturday by breaking records and accomplishing program firsts that have left a buzz in Salt Lake City.

While both teams are incredibly proud of their accomplishments from the weekend, they also realize the job is not done yet.

Red Rocks Hit Several Season High Markers

The Red Rocks had a banner night on Friday against the Cal Golden Bears posting their highest score of the season so far (198.550) which is also the third highest score in program history. (The highest score is a 198.600 against BYU in 2004 for anyone wondering.)

Utah tied their highest vault score of the season at 49.525 after not hitting a 49 event score the previous two meets. The Utes then went on to post a season high mark on bars with a 49.600 and floor with a 49.675. Beam was just shy of matching their season high/school record of 49.775 with a 49.750.

A Perfect 10 For The Reigning Vault National Champion

Jayden Rucker has been very good for the Red Rocks in the vault lineup over the years. Last season she was crowned the National Champion on vault after posting a 9.9625. The only thing she had yet to accomplish? Scoring a perfect 10.

Rucker did exactly that Friday night putting an exclamation point on a very good vault lineup for the Utes.

“It’s honestly one of the best feelings I’ve ever felt in my life,” Rucker said. “It’s really exciting and I’m just really blessed to get it.”

There Is a New Beam Queen In Red Rocks Land

Rucker wasn’t the only one to score a 10 in Friday’s meet. Maile O’Keefe came in hot on beam like she always seems to do, earning the seventh perfect 10 of her career on the event. With that 10, O’Keefe cemented herself as the sole leader of perfect 10s on beam after tying for the school record with Theresa Kulikowski two weeks prior at the Metroplex Challenge.

“It feels surreal because she’s been holding that record for a very long time,” O’Keefe said of Kulikowski. “I got kind of emotional because it’s kind of crazy knowing that my name will be there for a while and then somebody will come along and pass me up too.”

Who Run The World?

Fittingly, the Red Rocks were celebrating 50 years of Title IX and had invited 47 years’ worth of Utah gymnastics legends for Alumni Night to witness the new history being made. For Michigan transfer Abby Brenner who earned her first event win as a Ute on bars, it was a powerful moment.

“I think it is so powerful to have everyone come together and unite for that exact reason,” Brenner said. “Just to have so many people come out and support women in sports and I just think that is something no one else can compare too.”

Rucker followed up the response by noting how cool and powerful women can be and how much fun it is when it’s recognized and respected.

“I also think it’s cool,” Rucker said. “It just shows how cool women are and how powerful we are and it’s just really fun to be a part of.”

Utah Women’s Basketball Reaching New Heights

The Red Rocks were not the only ones making big noise for Utah Athletics’ women’s sports. Utah women’s basketball reached new heights and milestones the following afternoon hosting No. 3 Stanford for the Pac-12 regular season finale and they didn’t disappoint.

The No. 8 Utes ended up taking down the Cardinal to win a piece of the regular season Pac-12 Title for the first time in program history in front of a record crowd of 9,611. It was only the second time the Utes have ever beat Stanford and was the highest ranked opponent Utah women’s basketball has ever beat.

Now sitting with a 25-3 record (15-3 in the Pac-12) the Utes will enjoy a first-round BYE in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament with the two-seed which is the program’s highest placement to date (used to be the six-seed). Utah will also look forward to hosting the first two rounds of the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament later in the month and very likely could be a one-seed according to a projection put out last week. 

“That was a great game,” head coach Lynne Roberts said. “I think the reason it means so much too is that we did it beating Stanford. They have been the elite program not just in our conference but in the country for years. I have so much respect for them and the way they play, the way they compete and that’s why it means more to do this, to beat them. Incredibly proud of my team. That was a great game.”

Building Belief In-House

As important as having a wide audience is, it all has to start at home first. The buzz around the Utah women’s basketball program has been growing all season, but what makes it more special is when some of the best to have ever come through Utah both past and present lend their time to the cause.

Earlier in the year, former Utah quarterback Alex Smith and his family were present to watch the Utah women against Stanford in Palo Alto. Later against Washington, Utah football’s Devin Kaufusi, Brant Kuithe, and Dalton Kincaid were front and center cheering the ladies on.

Before the ladies took the court, Utah alum and current ESPN reporter Holly Rowe paid the team a visit and offered words of wisdom moving forward into post-season. For Saturday’s big game, Kuithe made another appearance along with Thomas Yassmin, and starting quarterback Cam Rising. Beam Queen Maile O’Keefe, running back Ja’Quinden Jackson and the entire volleyball team were also present to see history being made.

“It’s awesome,” Roberts said. “I think these players have earned it and there is a buzz. There is that swell of attention and people tracking. That’s what I love about Salt Lake City and that’s what I love about the University of Utah. Our starting quarterback comes to our games, and I got texts from other head coaches this morning, ‘good luck, go get it!’ Beth Launiere was one of the first ones to give me a big hug after the game. That’s what makes this place cool and that’s why I love being here. People talk ‘family atmosphere’ and all of that, but it really is. Everybody wants the other programs to do well, and we are all in this together. It’s a special place and that’s why I think we all love being here.”

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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Utah Women Make History Over The Weekend