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Rachel Tidd

Theresa Kulikowski comes to mind when Utah gymnastics fans think of athletes who could excel even though injuries kept their training to a minimum.

Sophomore Rachel Tidd isn't quite in Kulikowski's category yet — in terms of impact on NCAA gymnastics or in number of injuries/setbacks.

The Ute camp, of course, hopes Tidd never matches the 1999 NCAA all-around champion's hard luck. But she has already shown a similar ability to compete this season without having had the chance to train thoroughly.

"It's incredible what she's accomplished," said coach Greg Marsden about Tidd, who came back in the final regular-season meet of the season at BYU to score a season-high 39.575 in the all-around after missing parts of two meets and much of three weeks of training due to an inner-ear infection, which gave way to puzzling headaches.

"I do well with pressure," said Tidd, whose pressure has come more from her own physical maladies than from meets themselves.

She missed all or part of the first three weeks of the season with back spasms after looking outstanding in preseason training in November and December, determined to make up for missing the 2004 NCAA Championships with mononucleosis, which set in during the 2004 regional meet.

Despite the back problems, spasms caused by chronic inflamed osteoarthritis, which gets worse the more she does, Tidd was the nation's No. 1-ranked bars worker for the first month of the season and has been in the top five in the all-around.

It's that time again now — the postseason — and Utah hosts the 2005 NCAA North Central Regional meet Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Huntsman Center.

The No. 1-ranked Utes will vie with No. 12 Oregon State, No. 13 Brigham Young, No. 20 Minnesota, No. 22 Southern Utah and unranked Iowa for the two available berths from this regional into the 2005 NCAA Championships April 21-23 at Auburn.

There are five other regionals around the country, and each sends its top two finishers to the 12-team nationals. Utah State competes Saturday in the Central Region at Alabama.

"I already promised I will compete in the regional, and I'm sticking to that," said a determined Tidd, whose back spasms flared up again a bit last week during training, causing her to back off this week to practicing two events each on Monday and Tuesday.

"She would have competed last year (at the NCAAs, even with the mono) if the doctor would have allowed her to," said Marsden, attesting to Tidd's determination.

Following her all-around win at BYU March 26, Tidd promised to compete this postseason: "Yeah, I'm going to be ready, no matter what. I've already said I'm competing — it doesn't matter if anything's wrong. I'm not going to go without competing at championships again," she said.

She has only to get through light workouts Thursday, a walkthrough Friday and meet warm-ups on Saturday. But then, the mononucleosis struck her in mid-meet last regionals — she won the 2004 regional vault championship even while getting sick. The illness came after she had battled a shin problem most of her freshman season, which still saw her score a career-best 39.675 with a 10.0 vault score.

The three weeks she backed off of training due to the inner-ear problem actually helped her back feel better, but the last meet and training made it sore again. "It's just like it was before when I had to keep my numbers down. If I do everything, it just doesn't work," Tidd said. "I just have to deal with it."

She's done that quite well, witness the 39.575 two weeks ago without training. And that could have been even better, perhaps a career high, were it not for the deduction she received on floor for having three layouts — you can have only two. She had planned an upgrade for her last pass but did two layouts instead. "I didn't want to chance it," she said, lamenting, "I could have done it too."

Having missed out on so much the last two seasons, she relishes the times she's been able to perform. "There have been a lot of frustrating times, but every time I've had the chance to compete, I was just happy to compete.

"I try to think positively," she said, adding teammates have told her it's more important that she be ready for nationals than for Saturday's regional.

"She's not the only difference-maker on the team," said Marsden, noting Utah could ill afford to lose Annabeth Eberle, Ashley Postell or Nicolle Ford too, "but we are a different team without her. We didn't have her last year (at nationals), and it made a big difference (Utah finished sixth).

"I can't replace her in terms of score," he said about the quiet, humble and highly religious youngster from a family of 10 kids in Fallbrook, Calif., who took a bronze medal with the U.S. team at the 2001 World Championships, where she placed eighth on beam.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com