SALT LAKE CITY — On Friday night, Kassandra Lopez will compete in the arena where she grew up watching collegiate gymnastics as a little girl.
Instead of wearing the navy blue and cardinal red sported by the Arizona Wildcats, however, she'll be a visitor in her hometown of Tucson, Ariz., decked out in the red and black of the Utah gymnastics team.
"I grew up watching Arizona gymnastics, and it's something that's always been a part of my life," said Lopez, a sophomore who will compete on the bars in Friday's meet at Arizona. "Coming here, I could never regret that decision. I’m really happy about that."
Lopez was slated to compete in the all-around competition for Utah until she injured her calf the day before the Utes' season opener at UCLA two weeks ago. She didn't compete in that meet, but managed to convince trainers and coaches she could compete on bars in the team's quad-meet win at home last Saturday night.
"I've been working hard all preseason," she said, "and it's always frustrating getting hurt. So I went to (coach) Greg (Marsden) and said, 'I'm ready. Put me in. I've been working hard, and (despite) this injury, I can still do this for my team.'
"And I think he took that into consideration."
Co-head coach Megan Marsden said it was a combination of Lopez's confidence, her ability to complete a competitive routine and the medical staff's OK that led to the sophomore competing last Saturday.
"First, she landed a dismount on a pretty firm surface," said Megan Marsden. "But the biggie was her going to Greg and wanting the opportunity."
Lopez said it would be painful to return to her hometown and not be able to compete. So she's going to make the most of her moment on the bars. She is not totally healed and the sprint required to vault herself onto the bars is still difficult.
"Gymnastics, you're always going to be in pain," she said laughing. "You just have to deal with it. ... It was harder to get on the bars (than the dismount) because I had to run. I kind of hobbled, but I did it."
The daughter of immigrants, Lopez said she is grateful that she found gymnastics — in no small part because it offered her the chance to get a college education.
"My parents grew up in a different world than we live in now," she said. "I'm thankful that I got this scholarship, but it's really cool to have (my heritage) mixed in with my life now. I think it's pretty special."
Lopez competed in a small club near her home from the time she was 10. Lopez said she was able to compete in an expensive sport because of the sacrifices her parents made and the generosity of the gym owner, who has since passed away.
"Him and my coaches, they helped my family a lot," Lopez said. "He was really helpful and he saw my potential and I'm grateful for that. It was really expensive; it was difficult. But my parents figured it out."
While Lopez said she fell in love with the Ute gymnastics program, it was the school's proximity to the Huntsman Cancer Institute that lured her out away from Arizona. She hopes to study oncology eventually, and she showed her gratitude for the opportunity gymnastics has afforded her by earning Scholastic All-American honors as a freshman.
Two Utes honored
Sophomore Georgia Dabritz was named the Pac-12 Gymnast of the Week and sophomore Tory Wilson earned the Pac-12’s Special Performance of the Week on Tuesday.Comment on this story
Dabritz won the all-around competition in Utah's quad-team meet last week and her score of 39.525 places her fourth in the national all-around rankings.
Wilson was honored for her performance on vault. She tied her career-best score with a 9.95, and is also ranked fourth in the country on vault. It's the first weekly award for either gymnast.
No. 8 Utah (3-1) at No. 13 Arizona (6-3) • Friday, Jan. 25 • 7:00 p.m. MST • Tucson, Ariz. (McKale Center) • Live Scores & Commentary: Utahutes.com • Live Video: Pac-12.com.