Tom Smart, Deseret News
When Utah's very young, fourth-ranked gymnastics team meets No. 2 Stanford in the Huntsman Center tonight at 7, it may do so with only one senior left in the lineup.
On the heels of losing senior Kyndal Robarts — their biggest-name athlete and the national leader in vaulting — for at least a month to a knee injury she sustained last Saturday, the Utes may now have also lost senior Jacq Johnson for this meet to a mild concussion.
As of Thursday, doctors had benched Johnson following a head bump while doing a "timer" dive-roll Tuesday, and coach Greg Marsden said it was "likely" that the oft-injured Johnson would miss tonight's meet.
That may leave Utah with only five athletes in floor exercise. At the start of the week, Marsden didn't really even have an alternate on floor; he will put five up tonight and see how they do. If they do well, he will not use a sixth floor-worker.
If one of the five has a problem, then senior Gael Mackie will go, using a watered-down last pass because her planned final tumbling run isn't quite ready. "It's close," Marsden said of Mackie's last pass, but it's not there yet.
Freshman MaryBeth Lofgren will replace Johnson on bars, and freshman Victoria Shanley will make her 2011 debut as part of the vault lineup. She had been vying with Johnson and freshman Lia Del Priore for two vault spots, but if Johnson's out, there's no decision to be made.
That means freshmen will likely do 15 of Utah's 23 or 24 routines tonight.
The good thing is that the Utes have been relatively oblivious to difficulties so far.
"No question they're a gutty team. All year they haven't let things distract them too much," Marsden said. "They go in and do their thing. They're not perfect, but we haven't beat ourselves yet."
The Utes have had only two athletes who've scored 9.90 or better this season — Robarts twice on vault and junior all-arounder Stephanie McAllister, who had 9.925 on bars at Nebraska last Saturday — yet they are 3-0 with wins over nationally ranked UCLA, Georgia and Nebraska.
This is partly due to a six-woman freshman class that has been steady, if not spectacular. Corrie Lothrop led the Utes with a 39.375 all-around at Nebraska, following Robarts' injury during warmups; Lofgren contributed 9.85s in her last two beam routines, and Nansy Damianova had 9.85s on vault against UCLA and on vault and floor at Nebraska.
McAllister credits the freshmen for coming to school early last summer and putting in extra work, along with the upperclassmen, to get better and help build a team atmosphere.
Co-coach Megan Marsden said the youngsters have so far lived up to their own vow.
"They said some things early in the year to Greg and I that they did not want it to be a rebuilding year. They did not want to be labeled: 'Oh, she's a freshman.' It was important to them," she said.
"But that was all talk. You had to see if they were going to do the walk, and at the moment, they are. At the moment they do seem very serious about not allowing this legendary team to trail off while they come in as freshmen.
"They didn't let a tough start to the year, in terms of schedule, scare them away. They didn't let a legendary team like Georgia scare them away. So they keep kind of proving that adversity is something they're taking head-on — or they're oblivious to it. I don't know which way to figure them out."
They have another chance to build on their own legend tonight.
The loss of Robarts and possibly Johnson "really doesn't change our approach," said Greg Marsden. "We've had some success so far without worrying who our opponent is or if we're going to win or lose the meet, but just trying to stay focused on what we're trying to accomplish and trying to get a little better each week.
"We've got to move forward."
No. 2 Stanford (7-0) at
No. 4 Utah (3-0)
Tonight, 7 p.m.
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