PROVO Utah's No. 2-ranked, 4-0 gymnastics team passed tests the past few weeks, not getting caught up in thinking about its opponents, whether it was defeating No. 1 Georgia in a very tight season opener or not letting down against Nebraska, Arizona State and Minnesota, who weren't up to really pushing the U.
Tonight at 7 in BYU's Marriott Center, against a Cougar club whose health is improving but is just 1-4 and ranked 36th nationally, will be a little different kind of exam for the Utes, who will deal with their first real attrition of the season due to illness and injury.
The meet is part of the Deseret Duel multisport competition between the two rival schools, and it is BYU's home-opener.
For Utah, it will be a test of its supposedly strong depth. Sophomore Stephanie Neff doesn't seem to have any structural damage to her left Achilles that she injured Monday, but she will be out at least this week, and that hurts the Utes on floor. Ashley Postell, the nation's No 2 all-arounder, may be limited, as she's been sick all week with both cold- and stomach-flu-like problems, and a long floor routine could be hard on her.
Nina Kim and Jessica Duke were back to practice Thursday after illnesses, but Gael Mackie was out, and Utah coach Greg Marsden wonders if someone else will be sick by today.
Freshman Kyndal Robarts could make her floor debut tonight in place of Neff, and sophomore Daria Bijak is another possibility. Other lineup changes may be necessary.
Marsden is anxious to see how that's handled. "If people can take advantage of their opportunity and do a good job, and we can have a similar kind of a meet where we go in and hit a lot of routines ... and do what we've done the past four weeks, that would be a positive for me. That's what I'm looking for," he said.
That's what he would expect, too.
"Yeah, it is, with the personnel we have this year. The people we would put in the lineup are capable of doing a great job."
He just may not know who they are until warm-ups tonight.
For BYU coach Brad Cattermole, it's a matter of putting the Cougars back together, and he somewhat expects to see BYU's best score of the season so far.
Partly because of offseason surgery for senior Alethea Boon, he delayed the start of BYU's season until Jan. 26, while most teams began two weeks earlier. Boon has also come up with overuse soreness in her wrist since coming back, and senior Dayna Smart-Allen is just rounding into shape after a preseason foot problem. Senior Aimee Walker-Pond has shoulder trouble.
That means BYU has relied on its youngsters a lot so far, but now they have built a little more experience, and the injured are getting better.
"Other people just have to step up and hit," Cattermole said.
"Clearly we'd like to do well. If we can score 195, I'd be a pretty happy camper," he said, noting that meets with high-scoring Utah usually mean judges will open up a bit. "We have an opportunity to score well, and we need to start doing that. We will fight as hard as we can and see what happens."
For Utah senior Duke, from Sandy, it's one last chance to see her parents, BYU grads, sitting in the Ute section at the Marriott Center.
"It's always funny with my parents," she said, adding she felt fine Thursday. Duke also cherishes the two meets against BYU as chances to catch up with her Cougar friends from Olympus School of Gymnastics, Walker-Point and Smart-Allen, because it's the only time she sees them.
She is determined to improve her game."Not because it's down there but because I've been continually working on things, especially on bars," Duke said. "I know I have more potential. I've been taking a lot of steps on my dismounts, and, because it's a road meet, and I want to do better in each road meet for practice for postseason. That's my main goal down there."
On the air
Utah (4-0) vs. BYU (1-4)
Tonight, 7 p.m.
E-mail: [email protected]