Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Jacq Johnson and Gael Mackie have missed much of their careers in Utah gymnastics due to injury.
But when their team needs them the most — tonight when No. 1-ranked Florida visits the Huntsman Center at 7 — the two Ute veterans will likely get to go all-around, a rarity for both, to help celebrate their own Senior Night.
Kyndal Robarts, the third member of the senior class, will also be honored before tonight's meet but is still sidelined with torn medial collateral and posterior cruciate knee ligaments, plus a bone bruise that seems to be the bigger problem as she tries to come back for at least the postseason.
Johnson and Mackie will help lead a Ute club that will again be without freshman all-arounder Corrie Lothrop (sprained ankle) and freshman vaulter Victoria Shanley (jammed back), as well as without Robarts, its most accomplished athlete.
"It increases the challenge a little bit, yeah," understated Ute coach Greg Marsden, thankful that his two healthy seniors are "probably having their best years" in their last go-round. "I'm really pleased with the way both of them have accepted the challenge when we have needed them the most."
Both went all-around last Friday at Utah State, Johnson for the first time in her career. She scored a 39.225, and Mackie totaled a 39.025, despite stepping out of bounds on floor.
"That was really, really fun," said Johnson, whose career started with a broken foot and saw her struggling for two years to break into the lineup.
"It felt good to be out there doing all-around again. It was definitely a confidence booster to be able to hit all four events on the same night and be able to stay pretty calm throughout the whole meet."
The Ute lineup that challenges the Gators — whom Marsden considers the favorites to win the NCAA championship April 15-17 at Cleveland, even though they're coming off their first loss of the season — will be the same as last Friday's at Utah State.
As of Wednesday morning, Utah had sold about 9,400 tickets, about 700 more than it has usually sold by the Friday morning before meets. That gives Utah hope that it can again win the national attendance championship. Going into their final home meets, Utah was an average of four people per meet higher than No. 2 Alabama, 13,092-13,088. Utah has won 26 of the last 29 NCAA gymnastics attendance titles.
Mackie looks at this home finale against the Gators, who rank No. 1 in each event as well as in the overall team category with two individuals also No. 1 in their events, as "going out with a bang.
"It's been lots of ups and downs," Mackie said of her career, curtailed the last two years by bad ankle injuries, "but I've never had so much fun, especially this last year. Knowing that it's going to be over makes every day that much more exciting."
Both are content despite their injury-shortened careers.
"Oh, yeah. Part of this year has been accepting my career for what it's been and being happy with it," said Mackie, from Vancouver, B.C.
"I feel really satisfied," said Johnson, from West Chester, Ohio. "I feel like I've gotten a lot accomplished, just being able to come back from injuries and getting into lineups and improving over (last) summer. That's all helped me feel I've accomplished something while I've been here."
Robarts, of San Marcos, Texas, was a star from the beginning until hurting her knee at Nebraska Jan. 22. She is trying to come back this year and would rather do that than try for a medical hardship/fifth year, though she will probably still do postgraduate work next year after graduating this spring.
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