AUBURN, Ala. — Probably the biggest news coming out of Wednesday's practice sessions for the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships was that Nebraska's Richelle Simpson, the 2003 NCAA all-around champion, further injured her right knee trying to dismount bars, and that likely ended her career.

"That's probably it for her," said Nebraska coach Dan Kendig. "She doesn't feel like the leg is stable enough to go."

Simpson hurt the knee on floor exercise during the South Central Regional hosted by Nebraska April 9, and the Cornhuskers didn't know what her status would be for this meet. A senior, she wanted to give it a try while wearing a brace but was in obvious pain after landing from bars and had to be helped off the podium, then spent nearly an hour getting the leg treated and wrapped.

"Most people might not have been able to try," Kendig said, adding it obviously hurts the 'Huskers, but they have known since the regional they might not have her.

"It just brought us closer together," said Nebraska's only other senior, Jamie Saas.

AT HOME: At Wednesday's press conferences, UCLA coach Valorie Kondos Field spotted Utah coach Greg Marsden in the audience wearing an orange shirt and accused him of pandering to the local Auburn audience since that's the Tigers' color.

When it was Marsden's turn in the press conference, he played along and joked that few people were aware he actually graduated from Auburn and hoped "that my fellow alumni will come and cheer on Utah. Come help a brother. I'm wearing the colors — go Tigers!"

ON A PEDESTAL: This is the second NCAA Championships to be held with apparatus elevated on podiums, as in Olympic and world-championships competitions. The idea is a hit, and some coaches mentioned they hope the trend continues.

Utah freshman Ashley Postell, the 2002 world beam champion and a veteran of much international competition, also endorsed the podium.

"I like the whole podium situation. I like stuff like that," she said. "It's a little bit more bouncier, and some of the landings are softer. It can (be good) if you use it right.

"Actually, all the freshmen have been on the podium, so no first-timers," Postell said.

BYU is enthusiastic about it, too. "The podium feels just like the Marriott Center," said BYU coach Brad Cattermole, "so I can't think that's going to be any big deal for (the Cougars). It bounces. Everything in the Marriott Center bounces a little, and so does this, so it's nothing to get your undies in a bunch over."

The reason the Marriott Center floor is bouncy is "It's on leaf springs," Cattermole said.

"Typically, last year everybody struggled to get used to the podium, but then by the end of warm-ups they had it figured out," Cattermole said. "After the first day, everybody got adjusted, and they were fine.

"The podium is actually a safer environment. It's easier on the girls' joints and bodies, and at this time of year, anything that's easier on their bodies is a plus. It kind of gives it an Olympic feel, kind of an international, world-class type of feel. These girls don't ever get to get on podiums and compete, so this is really cool."

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"I am so thankful Auburn was able to get the podium," said Kondos Field. "It makes it a special event."

Having a raised platform for the apparatus means that everyone can see the performing athlete better — live and TV audiences — while the gymnast feels like she's being featured, Cattermole said.


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