Cortni Beers, a two-year U.S. national team member and senior international elite from Tulsa, Okla., and Junior Olympic national all-around champion Stephanie McAllister of Indianapolis have followed through with oral agreements to join the University of Utah gymnastics team for 2009, signing NCAA letters-of-intent Thursday.

However, it's looking more and more like Canadian Gael Mackie, originally slated for the 2009 Ute class, won't join them — because Mackie will very likely join the Ute team as a freshman just after Christmas for the 2008 class.

Mackie — who had planned to be with the Canadian team for the 2008 Olympics but can't because she was hurt and her team did not qualify for Beijing — made a concerted effort once that happened starting last summer to finish high school early and become a Ute for the coming season.

That she could have a scholarship available a year early was because 2007 freshman Sarah Shire transferred home to the University of Missouri last spring.

Mackie completed her high school work and is already accepted by the university and even has a dormitory assignment. She made an unofficial visit to the team last week for 2 1/2 days and then returned home to British Columbia.

She cannot start with the team or receive an athletic scholarship until the Canadian ministry of education issues her a high school diploma and then the NCAA eligibility center — formerly called the clearing house — certifies her.

But Mackie's case is somewhat ahead of schedule, said Ute coach Greg Marsden, and she is expected to be on campus Dec. 26. Utah's season opens Jan. 11 at defending NCAA-champion Georgia.

"You don't know until you know," Marsden said about Mackie's availability for 2008, with her certifications pending and the possibility of injury as she works out at home, but her early arrival would certainly help fill the void left by Shire's departure.

"She's very enthusiastic," said Marsden of Mackie, who made an official recruiting visit to the school in March. "Gael is capable of helping every place," he added.

Like Beers and McAllister, she does all events well.

Beers, from Oklahoma's Kraft Academy and Tulsa Union High School, is a former Junior Olympic national all-around champion and placed 10th all-around in the U.S. senior championships, finishing seventh on beam. She has trained with the U.S. team at Karolyi's in Texas.

Marsden is leery of comparing gymnasts to Utah's last NCAA all-around champion Theresa Kulikowski, but he does just that in Beers' case because of her fluid, artistic look.

McAllister is the 2005 J.O. all-around national champion as well as 2007 uneven bars champion and placed fourth all-around in 2006 and '07. She trains at Wright's American Gymnastics and attends Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis.

"Stephanie has more of an athletic style," Marsden said, adding she has an infectious personality on and off the competitive floor. "She's really fun to watch," he said, finding McAllister reminds him of past fan-favorite Melissa Vituj.

Marsden said he's confident both recruits will make significant contributions early in their careers and be able to help soon after their arrivals.

UPDATES: During preseason training, both sophomore Daria Bijak and freshman Jacquelyn "Jacq" Johnson sprained both ankles — something Marsden can't recall ever happening before to even one gymnast — but both are back training all four events now ... Marsden said the atmosphere in the gym is so much better than at this time last year, when several members of the seven-person freshman class reported out of shape and then had injuries trying to get into shape. Veterans were appalled, a split developed, and it took until the last month of the season for everything to iron out. Now, it's a "180-degree turnaround" in demeanor. "This year it's back to fun in the gym," Marsden said, adding he had expected some problems last year with such a large freshman class. This year, Johnson and Kyndal Robarts are the only two freshmen.


E-mail: [email protected]m