Injury bug bites gymnastics team

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

The Red Rocks have already had to deal with some injuries as they prepare for their 2007 season opener in mid-January, and while nobody can predict where and how an injury will occur, nobody expected the injuries to hit the coaching staff the hardest.

A week after assistant coach Jeff Graba ruptured a bicep tendon while doing routine spotting in practice, head coach Greg Marsden hyper-extended his knee and partially tore an ACL doing the exact same thing.

“I’m a little sore right now, a little bit limited, although I’m still doing some spotting. So just a couple of freak things,” said Marsden.

Like all NCAA gymnastic squads, Utah is only allowed three full-time coaches, a volunteer and a student-coach. With Marsden limited and Graba completely unable to spot, the gymnastics team is without a male coach that can comfortably perform the bulk of the spotting duties. This predicament has left coach Marsden with few options.

“We’re going to petition or try to do a hardship waiver to the NCAA and see if we can hire somebody to come in and just help us with spotting,” Marsden said.

If the NCAA does allow the Utes to take on another coach, that coach would be limited to spotting duty only. The coach would not be allowed to comment on routines, training or any other regular coaching responsibility.

As soon as the double-whammy hit the Red Rocks, previous assistant coach Aki Hummel was among the first to come to mind.

“I’ve actually already talked to Aki, our former assistant,” Marsden said. “He’s got his own business now, so he can’t come often, but he thought he could break away and come up for a couple of hours?once or twice a week.”

Unfortunately for the Red Rocks, their coaches are not the only ones suffering from injury.

A few of the gymnasts, especially incoming freshmen, have had their share of injuries–the most notable of which has been that of freshman Stephanie Neff.

Neff and her abilities brought high hopes to the U, but with her she also brought complaints of back problems to Salt Lake City. An MRI revealed two bulging disks and a stress fracture in Neff’s back, which has limited the amount of training she has been able to do.

“I’m just not sure what she’s going to be able to do and how quickly, so that’s been disappointing,” Marsden said. “She’s frustrated, we’re frustrated–we just wish she was out there.”

Neff is not the only freshman who has battled injury in the early going. Annie DiLuzio, Daria Bijak and Chelsey Coleman have all nursed injuries at some point this fall.

DiLuzio was limited the first month of training with a bone chip in her elbow. Although she is now actively participating in the majority of practice, she is still limited in the bars competition.

Bijak subluxed her metatarsals prior to going to the World Championships, forcing her to undergo multiple shots in her feet just to compete. Her injury, combined with her busy preseason, will force Bijak to spend the rest of training and much of the start of the season recuperating and healing from her ailments so she can be competitive in the second half of the season.

For Marsden, probably the most frustrating injury is Coleman’s severe ankle sprain, which occurred while she was playing soccer two weekends ago. Marsden noted that Coleman has had problems with her knees and soccer probably wasn’t the best choice, but said that those are the growing pains any freshman will go through.

“Some days I’m excited by their efforts, then other days I’m frustrated by their efforts, and I think that’s just the nature of freshmen,” Marsden said. “I would have said the same thing about Kristina and Nina last year. What’s tough for us is it’s just half our team.”

The stockpile of injuries, especially to the incoming freshmen, is reason for concern for Marsden. All five newcomers have the talent to make an impact on the team, but Marsden anticipates that the team will only get deeper and stronger as the season progresses.

This means Marsden will likely be a little thin to start the year, but he pointed out that his returning athletes have been a huge source of optimism for him.

“The returning kids are doing a great job,” Marsden said. “They’re all really, really doing a great job?and thank goodness.”

Another reason Marsden can be confident his team will survive the injury bug is that he feels Tom Iriye is the best trainer in the business.

“We’re very fortunate. We have, I think, the best trainer around. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anybody better,” Marsden said.

For that reason, Marsden has good cause to believe that his team will get stronger over time and that his seasoned athletes can bolster the team meanwhile.

Christopher Peddecord

Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden spots Nicolle Ford at a March 24 meet with BYU at the Huntsman Center.