Utah’s Maile O’Keefe: ‘I really want every opportunity to make memories with this team’

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Utah’s Maile O’Keefe: ‘I really want every opportunity to make memories with this team’

As a senior at the University of Utah Maile O’Keefe prepares for the upcoming NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, she’s doing so with the exuberant flare that earned her four years of collegiate athletic and academic honors — and already has her sights set on the fifth year of competition she’ll undertake next season.

O’Keefe, a kinesiology major and two-time NCAA individual event champion, led Utah to its 47th straight collegiate national championship appearance as the four-event foundation of Utah’s winning performance at the NCAA Los Angeles Regional held March 29-1 April The NCAA National Championships will be held April 13-15 in Fort Worth.

Tam O’Keefe says Utah plans to “let it happen” as it strives for its first NCAA national team win in his first four seasons competing for the university. Due to the pandemic, there was no postseason competition during her freshman year in 2020, and Utah placed third in the NCAAs in 2021 and 2022.

Numerous personal accolades over the past four seasons attest to O’Keefe’s no-nonsense approach to Fort Worth. She has won two NCAA individual national titles (bars and floor exercise in 2021) and four Pacific-12 Conference titles (all-around, bars, beam and floor exercise in 2021). O’Keefe is a 12-time All-American (six regular season, six NCAA) and was named All-Pacific 12 Conference eight times. Her other honors include being named the 2021 Pac-12 Gymnast of the Year, the 2022 and 2023 Pac-12 Specialist of the Year and one of six finalists for the American Athletic, Inc. Award. (AAI) for 2023, which honors the most outstanding senior collegiate gymnast in the United States and is voted on by the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Head Coaches.

O’Keefe’s accolades as a star student-athlete include two-time All-American Scholastic Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association, two-time Pac-12 All-Academic and 2022 CoSIDA Academic All-District Team.

Prior to Utah, O’Keefe won the all-around title at the 2016 and 2017 U.S. Junior Championships while training under Tammy Salciano and Sorin Salcianu, her coaches since she began gymnastics at the age of three at the elite Salcianu Gymnastics Academy in Henderson, Nevada. She also won gold in the all-around at the 2017 Gymnix International Junior Cup in Montreal and the 2017 Japan Junior Invitational in Yokohama.

An enthusiastic O’Keefe reflects on her achievements in 2023 and projects her hopes for the upcoming NCAA Championships and the 2024 season in this online interview with the international gymnast.

I’M GOING: This season, you didn’t compete in the all-around in the first seven of your 10 regular-season meets, then you competed in the all-around in the final three meets plus the Pac-12s and Regionals. Was the all-around competition at all part of your plan for the season? And how did you become so competitive on vault so late in the season?

Maile O’Keefe (University of Utah). Photo courtesy of University of Utah Athletics

MO’K: The all-around competition was definitely not in the original plan this year. We have a bunch of great talent on vault and gymnasts with great performances from Yurchenko in front of me, so I was like, ‘I really don’t think they’re going to need me on vault this year.’ Then we had a couple of injuries and just like that they asked me if I could to start jumping again. I actually did my first jump the Tuesday after the ASU meet (held on February 20th) and then competed for the first time this Friday against Cal (February 24th). To be honest, I’m not sure how I got race-ready so quickly, but jumping is one of those things for me where less is more.

I’M GOING: In the press conference after regionals, your teammates Crystal one and Abby Brenner noted that Utah strives to make improvements every day. You’ve already scored multiple 10.s on beam, 10 on bars, as close as possible to 10 on floor, and 9.9 or higher on vault. How much more do you think you personally can improve and on which devices?

MO’K: Yes, I’ve scored a few 10s on beam and 10s on bars, but there’s always more. I think on vault I’m definitely the best at what I do considering I’m starting at 9.95. My main thing in this vault is to just let it be big and find the landing. I think bars is definitely the event this year that I could improve on the most going into nationals. I’m getting a little timid with handstands and just perfecting my dismount technique to consistently find that stick. I think beam was really great this year. I just have to continue to let my gymnastics happen in the moment and stay present during my routine. I think the floor has improved a lot this year compared to last year. I can definitely continue to improve my showmanship and just focus on clean form and landings.

I’M GOING: With so many teams tied, what do you think Utah will have to do to have an edge over the other seven teams at nationals?

MO’K: I think if Utah just does our gymnastics like we know, then we can contend for the title. We do better when we’re having fun and enjoying the moment, so we just have to stay in our Utah bubble and let it happen!

I’M GOING: Having already accomplished so much in the past four years, what motivates you to take on a fifth year next season?

MO’K: I had actually already made the decision to take my fifth year before the season even started, but I think my main motivation was to be able to get another year of postseason with this program. If I were to finish after this year, I would only have three Pac-12s, three regionals and three nationals. I really just want every opportunity to make memories with this team. (Note: Due to the pandemic, there was no postseason in her first year in 2020.)

I’M GOING: Looking ahead to your fifth year, what do you think will be key to maintaining your stamina for another full season as well as maintaining or maybe even improving on your current form?

MO’K: Tom (Sailing, head coach) is great with us. He understands that I’m not going to function as a freshman or even a sophomore. He’s already said he has an idea of ​​how to lead me next year and so I think just trusting our coaches, staff and Tom will allow me to have the best year possible.

Maile O’Keefe was featured in “Sure Bet,” a five-page story about her, in the December 2017 issue. International gymnast magazine. To purchase back issues, click here.

Other recent features of International Gymnast Online for NCAA gymnasts include:

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