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Utah Utes gymnastics: Sophomores emerge at USU meet

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 12 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Kyndal Robarts was slowed by a shoulder injury, and Gael Mackie and Jacq Johnson have been trying to get a toe in the door of Utah's strong gymnastics lineups through their sophomore seasons.

All three did their best Monday night at Utah State to complicate coach Greg Marsden's job, performing well enough when finally given the chance to at least put their names into future lineups.

"It was exciting," Marsden said of seeing those three step in and do well enough that they helped No. 1-ranked Utah get its second-highest score of the season on a night when Marsden had actually worried about the team keeping its focus.

Robarts, an All-American vaulter as a freshman, scored 9.825 with her first vault of 2009 on Monday, showing she's ready to return to the lineup and leaving Marsden a dilemma since his vault team already ranks No. 1 in the country.

"It felt like a good vault, so I was excited about it," said Robarts. "It was really nice to be able to come back in and help immediately and be a part of that score, especially on the road.

"It for sure makes me feel like I'm doing more for the team," Robarts said of being able to compete now in two events, though the shoulder is sometimes still sore from the torn labrum she suffered in mid-December.

Robarts added that the team took precautions against any kind of a letdown against Utah State. The meet was the second of three for Utah in eight nights and in a gym with only 1,655 in attendance on a snowy night. Utah arrived at the gym four hours early as Marsden got the team on the road quickly, concerned about weather in Sardine Canyon.

"We knew it was going to be difficult, and we had to be on top of our mental aspect going in," said Robarts, "and I think we did a really good job of preparing, and I felt like we were at a good place."

JACQ'S BACK: Johnson sat out 2008 with a broken foot, and her 9.775 floor exercise Monday was actually the beginning of her collegiate career, her first-ever event to count.

"It was a really big accomplishment for me," she said. "I've been working for this the last year, just trying to prove to them that I should be in the lineup."

"Jacq has just been plagued by a series of injuries, some more serious than others," said Marsden, "so that was the first time that she actually competed a routine to count for us, which was exciting for her and exciting for us because she's another one that — if not this year, certainly in the future, — she's got to be one of those who steps up and blossoms like Jamie (Deetscreek) has for us this year."

AND MACKIE: Mackie had been competing vault and bars all season but struggled when she was inserted into the beam lineup in the second and third meets, and she hadn't done floor at all. On Monday, the Canadian Olympian did her first collegiate all-around and scored 39.125 that included a 9.80 floor and 9.625 beam.

"I actually wanted to do even better," Mackie said, "but I had to pace myself and just think about getting better each meet. But, yeah, I was happy with how it went."

Beam was still a bit of a struggle. "I was like, 'Oh, I should have done it better.' I just have to stay positive throughout the week and think about getting better and not be too hard on myself.

Mackie knew she could be an all-arounder, "But at the same time, it's exciting, too. Because we have such a good team, to be able to compete on all four events is, like, good. It's the first step to getting better and better."

To do well just a few nights after having had another meet, "It helps confidence a lot."

RANKING: Kristina Baskett's season-high 9.95 vault Monday should help keep her ranked No. 1 in the country. She's No. 11 as an all-arounder. Annie DiLuzio, who did not do floor Monday, is ranked No. 2 nationally; Daria Bijak is No. 3 on bars. The Ute vault and bars and is second on floor, seventh on beam.

Utah competes at No. 12 Nebraska Friday night, hoping to avenge a 2007 loss in Lincoln and familiarize itself with the site of the 2009 NCAA Championships.

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