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Unexpected opportunities for U gymnasts made this a memorable season

Published: Tuesday, March 12 2013 10:30 p.m. MDT

Utah's Tory Wilson on the beam, she finished with the overall title with a score of 39.475 as the University of Utah gymnastics team completes against California Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — This was not the season most of the Utah gymnasts envisioned in December.

But a season-ending injury to the Utes' top all-around competitor and team captain put the young team in a difficult position.

“Immediately there was a little bit of doubt,” said Georgia Dabritz. “And at first there was a lot more pressure. But I think it kind of actually helped motivate us more than anything because we knew we needed to step up. We knew this is such a great program and every team has made it to nationals. So we were feeling that we need to fulfill that role. So even though it was a sad thing, it did help us.”

Part of the pressure, Dabritz said, is that the team is small. The Utes already had two gymnasts limited by injuries when junior Corrie Lothrop, a returning All-American, tore her Achilles tendon while warming up for her floor routine in the fourth meet of the season.

But it’s what happened after Lothrop’s injury that pleasantly surprised the gymnasts. Individuals stepped up, starting with Kassandra Lopez, who bounced back from her own calf injury to compete on bars, Lia Del Priore, who earned a permanent spot on floor and ended up earning one of the team’s two 10s, and freshman Breanna Hughes, who has hit 18-of-18 routines this season.

But no gymnast embraced the role of taking over where Lothrop left off better than sophomore Tory Wilson.

“I definitely think Tory has been the biggest surprise of the year,” said Dabritz. “If you look at it, she only competed vault last year. And she was amazing on vault last year, but she’s doing even better on vault while competing three other events. That’s a huge thing.” Wilson won the All-Around competition in her first meet as an all-arounder and remains the nation's top-ranked vaulter with a perfect 9-0 record. She owns the team’s other 10 this season, and owns a regional qualifying score of 9.955.

Salt Lake native Mary Beth Lofgren acknowledged the start of the season was rough, beginning with a road loss to UCLA and then losing Lothrop.

“But it’s shaped up pretty well,” she said smiling.

Which is why facing the country’s No. 2 team in Florida this Saturday is both intimidating and exciting.

“I just hope to take another step forward,” said Lofgren. “We kind of hit a plateau for a while, but now we’re moving up, and I hope we just keep moving up for the post season.”

Florida boasts some of the country’s top gymnasts — Kytra Hunter, whose best score leads them with 39.8; Bridget Sloan, whose best score is 39.75; and Ashanee Dickerson, who owns a 39.65 top score.

“Yeah, it’s intimidating,” said Lofgren. “You can’t deny they’re an incredible team. But we’re at home, and we have 15,000 people behind us. And we have to approach this the same way we approach any other meet. We’re just getting ready for the post-season.”

The meet begins at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 networks. Fans are encouraged to arrive by 5:40 p.m. if they want to see the alumni, who will be honored, and team introductions.

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Email: adonaldson@desnews.com

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