SALT LAKE CITY — The second-seeded, 10th-ranked University of Utah's chances of qualifying for the NCAA women's gymnastics championships in two weeks took yet another hit Thursday when junior all-arounder Kyndal Robarts rolled an ankle in practice.
It was Utah's second injury in a week, as junior two-event specialist Jacq Johnson suffered a bruised tailbone from a fall and will be out of Saturday night's NCAA North Central Regional at 6 p.m. at Utah's Huntsman Center.
The top two teams from tonight's regional advance to the April 22-24 national championships at Florida.
Ute coach Greg Marsden said trainer Tom Iriye termed the ankle sprain a 1.5 on a scale of three, with three being the worst. He said he will leave it up to Robarts to decide today what she will be able to do in tonight's meet.
Iriye said Robarts is such a competitor she might want to do more than she should.
"I just want to scare everyone," Robarts quipped at Friday's practice for the six teams involved in this regional.
Florida is the top-seeded team in the North Central Regional, ranked fourth nationally and owns a 15-2 record. It has won the last five regionals that it has attended and is coming off winning the Southeastern Conference championship, which followed back-to-back, season-high scores of 197.55 in its final regular-season meets.
Auburn, which was fifth in the SEC meet and is ranked 16th with an 8-10 record that includes a victory over five-time defending NCAA champion Georgia, is the third seed Saturday night. Boise State, Denver and Washington round out the field.
Utah State has two individual all-arounders (Heather Heinrich, Lyndsie Boone) and two-event specialist Jackie Dillon (vault, floor) in a group that is vying to advance to the national championships as individuals.
Florida and Utah are the obvious favorites to qualify for the NCAA team championships, but Utah's uneven season and late injuries certainly give Auburn or one of the others a chance.
"Well, I'd like to think so," said Auburn coach Jeff Thompson, "but the host team has never failed to advance (in its 34 years, Utah has qualified for every national championship meet to date) and the No. 1 seed has failed to advance one time in their history, and they're hosting the national championship in two weeks."
Thompson likes to think both of those teams have pressure.
"I think that's why we have an advantage. There's no real pressure on us," he said. "If we don't advance out of this regional, no one's going to say, 'What happened to Auburn?' Because everyone expects Florida and Utah to be the ones to advance."
Utah finishes one rotation early on its worst event, beam, and Florida finishes in the final rotation on beam while Auburn will be on floor. It gives the Tigers all the advantages. "That's the way I like to look at it," Thompson said.
Florida coach Rhonda Faehn, though, seems supremely confident in her team, which gets half of its routines from an outstanding freshman class that has steadily improved from a good start.
Faehn said she has no worries about qualifying for the national championships that her school will host — that's often given other host coaches fits, including Marsden in the many times the Utes have been the host team.
"Honestly, no," said Faehn about any trepidations of missing her own nationals. "We're treating this just like any other competition that we've had. We just have to go out and perform like we have been. They're amazing because they're unfazed by anything this year."
In fact, Faehn said of her team with five freshmen competing at least a dozen routines: "They don't know any better, which is great."
They went into the SECs for the first time, some of them competing on a podium for the first time, and seized the title from higher-ranked Alababa, so Faehn is expecting more of the same.
Freshman Ashanee Dickerson (39.625 high) is the winningest Gator with 18 meet titles so far, and freshman Marissa King (39.575) has won six event titles. King was one of two Gator freshmen to join the team in December; she was on Great Britain's World Championships team, but quickly adjusted to collegiate requirements.
Marsden is hoping that the Utes' injuries, while hard to take, make the team pull together, which seemed to be the case in practices.
"I was really proud of them because (Robarts' accident) happened at the start, it could have been a downer, but they really rallied. Didn't miss a thing (Thursday)," he said. "Neither day did they let that ruin the training.
"It's funny how those things sometimes really will kind of jolt you and focus you, and that's certainly what happened in practice this week.
"I feel bad for Jacq; I feel bad for Kyndal. But that's why you have 12 people on your team, so let's get ready to rock and roll."
Senior Annie DiLuzio would replace Robarts if she can't go on bars.
Junior Cortni Beers (sore back) would replace her on beam, and freshman Kate Mohr would take over vault and floor.
Though things look a little grim for the Utes as they try to keep their qualification streak going to 35, Marsden says he's calm.
"What I feel is we've done everything we can do. We've worked hard to prepare physically and mentally," he said.
NCAA North Central Regional
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Jon M. Huntsman Center
Teams competing: Florida, Utah,
Auburn, Boise State, Denver,
What's at stake: Top two teams
advance to NCAA Championships
April 22-24 at Florida
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