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Utah Utes gymnastics: Young gymnasts boost Utes in Kim's absence

By Linda Hamilton

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, April 9 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

Sick as she was last weekend, Ute senior Nina Kim wanted to compete on beam for Utah in the 2009 NCAA West Regional women's gymnastics meet at Seattle.

"I did the first minute touch, and I got up there, and there was like, 'No way this is happening. I think there's somebody else that can do a better job than me,' " said a still-froggy-voiced Kim.

That meant freshman Stephanie McAllister was suddenly up.

"I had never competed beam — I've been in exhibition — and it's regionals, so I was kind of nervous," McAllister said.

"But I was glad that I could fill in when they needed me. I feel like I did all I could and did the best I could. I felt like my floor (where she also took Kim's place) couldn't have been any better."

McAllister was one of three youngsters to step in for Kim and help the Utes to their second-best score of the season, 197.675, and the regional championship. Utah joins 11 other teams at the 2009 NCAA Championships at Nebraska, starting next Thursday.

McAllister scored a 9.80 on beam and a 9.85 on floor. Sophomore Gael Mackie took Kim's place on vault (9.825), and sophomore Jacq Johnson, who had done only one routine all season (floor at Utah State), stepped in on bars with a 9.825.

NOT NEEDED?: Kim joked this week about how well the trio did in her absence.

"That is kind of sad," she said. " 'Like, wow, if I wasn't here, they don't need really me.' What does that mean? I think I could have helped the team with a couple of things."

"We're better with Nina than without Nina," said coach Greg Marsden, "but we were very competitive even without Nina in the lineup."

The way the three stepped in lent more momentum as the 17-1 Utes march toward what they hopes is a date with a big destiny.

"It was nice that they had that experience and did a good job for us," said Marsden. "It helps us have confidence in them and for them to have confidence in themselves if we need them to step in."

McAllister doesn't hope for more ailments for teammates, but if she is again called upon, "I'll be ready."

AND JACQ: Johnson said the same. "I'm totally eager to do it. I want to help as much as I can, and I think being put in at regionals at the last minute helped me a lot to know that if they do need me, I can go out and hit for them."

She missed last season with a broken foot and hasn't been able to crack Utah's deep 2009 lineup.

"I was really excited about the opportunity and getting to go in and hopefully help our team win, which I did, so it was a pretty awesome feeling," Johnson said. "When I was doing my routine, all I was thinking about was just doing it like we do at the gym, and it helped me a lot."

IN LOVE AGAIN: Mackie was a 2004 Canadian Olympian who also competed in the 2006 Worlds but missed the last Olympics with injuries. She came to Utah a year early but had to wait for government and NCAA clearance and didn't join the team until after Christmas 2007. She competed mainly on bars as a freshman. Now she's re-energized.

"I have fallen in love with gymnastics again," she said, "so that just makes it a lot funner and easier to come into the gym and try to improve. I'm not at my best yet, but I'm working towards it, and I have goals, so it feels a lot better than last year."

Mackie says she wouldn't change how her college career started.

"If I hadn't done that, I don't know what would have happened," she said. "Maybe I wouldn't even be doing gymnastics if I had waited. You just don't know.

"I'm sure last year made me stronger. I don't wish it didn't happen. A lot of great things happened. It was tough, but I learned a lot."

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