Gymnastics: Red Rocks set for regionals

By By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

When a team has qualified for every single NCAA Championship, its confidence is usually pretty strong going into a regional qualifying meet.

After 26 consecutive national championship appearances, the U gymnastics team is sure it will get through the North Central Regional Championship on Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn.

Joining Utah in the regionals are No. 11 Arkansas, No. 14 Arizona, No. 22 Iowa, Southern Utah and Minnesota. Utah is 6-1 this season against top-25 opponents and beat both SUU and Minnesota earlier this year.

That doesn’t mean that Utah is taking the competition lightly, especially considering the state of the team right now. The Red Rocks are dealing with a plethora of bumps and bruises heading into the meet. Nina Kim, normally a solid all-around option for Utah, is sidelined after rolling her ankle while training a week ago.

After using crutches during the weekend, Kim was active Monday afternoon. She trained this week on the uneven bars and the balance beam.

“I’m not expecting her to compete Saturday, but I’m not completely ruling it out,” Utah head coach Greg Marsden said.

The rest of the team has aches and pains but nothing out of the ordinary, Marsden said. Annie DiLuzio (shins), Kristina Baskett (ankle), Daria Bijak (knee), Jessica Duke (back) and Stephanie Neff (back) are dealing with typical ailments for this stage in the season. All five are available to compete and trained in all four events Tuesday in Utah’s last true practice before the competition.

Practices have been light the last two weeks to help aches and pains heal. The team hasn’t had to push itself too much as of late since fine-tuning is its main concern.

“At this point we shouldn’t be making many changes,” Baskett said.

Friday’s training in Minneapolis will be even lighter. The team will have 20 minutes on each event to get comfortable with the equipment. Utah will use the time to become aware of sidelines and to test the spring in the floor. The gymnasts will also practice approaching the vault and counting steps.

Marsden isn’t concerned too much by the injuries and is confident in the other gymnasts that will get the opportunity to compete.

Beth Rizzo will take Kim’s spot in the vault rotation, and Kyndal Robarts will sub in on the balance beam. Kim has performed three times on the floor for the Utes this season, so persevering without her will be easier on that event. Freshman Gael Mackie has made herself a staple in the bars rotation, helping to stabilize a once-thin event for the Red Rocks.

“I’m proud that she has the confidence to do her thing,” Duke said.

Mackie is also first alternate on vault.

Marsden is happy that the team will compete in a format similar to one it experienced while on the road during the regular season. The Utes will begin the meet as spectators as the initial rotation is the first of Utah’s two byes. After the first rotation, they will take their place on the bars — where they normally start away meets — before rotating to the beam. After its second bye, Utah will move to the floor before finishing on the vault.

Although the rotation throws some curveballs, Marsden doesn’t believe it will affect the team.

“We’ve trained for that, so I feel like we’re ready,” he said.

Despite breezing through most of its schedule this year and defeating two-fifths of its regional competition already, Utah is not taking the meet for granted. The Red Rocks are by no means a shoe-in for nationals, especially if Arkansas and Arizona have strong outings, Marsden said.

“If both of them get on a roll and we have some problems, then the thing gets wild and anything can happen,” he said.

Utah hasn’t counted a fall all season for the first time in school history. Regardless of whether or not Utah counts a fall, Arkansas and Arizona will be looming in the background for a shot at nationals. Only the top two teams advance, meaning it’s do-or-die time for all six teams.

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Ty Cobb

Despite battling injuries, the Red Rocks are confident they will finish in the top two at the Regional Qualifying Meet on Saturday and move on to Nationals.