There isn’t a better representation of the Utah’s gymnastics team’s consistency than sophomore Maile O’Keefe.
O’Keefe is ranked No. 1 nationally on the balance beam with a 9.975 average. She has scored below 9.9 just once this year and has a season high of 10.0. She was close to scoring that two other times, earning 9.975.
It goes without saying she is the favorite for the Pac-12 beam title this Saturday when the Championships are held at the Maverik Center, especially since the next highest ranked Pac-12 beam competitor is teammate Abby Paulson with a 9.95 average.
The season she has had puts her in a category with some of Utah’s best beam workers the program has had.
“She is poetry up there, the way she moves,” Utah coach Tom Farden said. “She goes up there and attacks the balance beam.”
That she is having such a dominating season isn’t a surprise, after all O’Keefe was a second-team All-American and first-team All-Pac-12 Conference selection on the beam last year.
O’Keefe closed out her freshman year with six straight 9.9s on the beam, a teaser to what she would do in 2021.
“This year she has just come into her own,” said Utah assistant Carly Dockendorf, who coaches the balance beam. “She is so artistic and that’s not something you can’t teach.”
O’Keefe credited her preseason work to her success as well as the experience in 2020.
“My freshman year was tough coming in because there were a bunch of chances to get used to and get settled in,” she said. “I know where I am on the team now and I’m a lot more confident.”
Dockendorf said she choreographed O’Keefe’s routine to show off her artistry, but O’Keefe’s physical abilities are not to be ignored.
“The amplitude on her skills is much greater and she has worked really hard to improve her leaps,” Dockendorf said. “Her series is one of the best I’ve seen.”
With O’Keefe showing so much potential as a freshman, Dockendorf went into the 2021 season with the plan to showcase O’Keefe.
“I said to her back in the fall that she was capable of being a national champion,” Dockendorf said. “She has a certain performance quality in her routine. She has the full package to be a champion on that event.”
O’Keefe is helped in her efforts by having a good team around her.
The Utes are ranked third with a 49.513 average and have shown a knack for being at their best when the pressure is highest, such as their wins against Cal, UCLA and Arizona State.
“It is a team event,” Dockendorf said. “They do a great job of setting her up. You can’t have five other beamers who are just average and one stellar performance. They all have extreme difficulty and the execution is outstanding.”