Utah Gymnastics Seniors Have Climbed Steeper Mountains Than Most

Mar 16, 2024, 1:03 AM

SALT LAKE CITY – The Red Rocks said good-bye to four impactful seniors in big fashion Friday night at the Huntsman Center.

Alani Sabado, Jaedyn Rucker, Abby Paulson, and Maile O’Keefe were major contributors to Utah’s 198.300 score in the final home meet of the 2024 season- a fitting farewell to a group that has anchored the program through some unprecedented times over the last five years.

Rucker, Paulson, and O’Keefe have been through the Covid-19 Pandemic season with the Utes while Sabado joined the program in the aftermath in 2021. All four experienced the community shaking tragedy of losing fellow student-athletes, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe and saw the program through their toughest offseason to date this season when former head coach Tom Farden was let go over allegations of abuse.

Red Rocks Seniors Have Climbed Steeper Mountains Than Most

The group’s strength and resiliency through a series of abnormal circumstances through their careers was something head coach Carly Dockendorf said she’s thought about a lot this past week.


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“I was actually thinking about this because I have to do a senior speech tonight,” Dockendorf said. “The stuff these women have had to go through isn’t normal. Yes, there are going to be hard things in life, but they have been thrown so many challenges. One thing we’ve talked about with our team is that sometimes it feels like, ‘once we get over this mountain the grass will be greener,’ but, the truth is, after one mountain, there is another mountain, and another mountain. You just keep climbing and learning. I feel like that is really what they’ve been doing- is climbing steeper mountains every time as they acquire more skills of how to handle certain situations.”


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While in many ways it seems unfair that some of the more “carefree” aspects of being a college student and athlete were constantly taken away from this particular group of seniors, on the other hand, according to Dockendorf those experiences have shaped who they are and prepared them to be leaders far beyond the competition floor.


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“I feel like their ability to be so strong this year is because of things that have happened beyond this year,” Dockendorf said. “They are strong women. They are brave women. They provide a lot of courage to the team, and they are going to be so ready to take on the world when they leave here because of everything they’ve had to go through and grow as people and learn how to handle it all.”


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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 XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Utah Gymnastics Seniors Have Climbed Steeper Mountains Than Most