A premature wave goodbye for Neff

By Marco Villano, Staff Writer

Sometimes saying goodbye is the hardest thing to do.

But that’s exactly what injuries have forced U gymnast Stephanie Neff to do to her athletic career at the U as she was placed on medical scholarship due to back problems.

Neff is in her junior year at the U and has been a contributor to the gymnastics team in her first two seasons, most notably on the floor exercise.

Her decision was made based on the advice given to her by the team physician who said it would be in her best interest to retire from the sport because it could lead to long-term health complications. The medical scholarship makes her permanently ineligible to train and compete with the team.

“This is a big loss for our team and very difficult for Stephanie,” gymnastics head coach Greg Marsden said. “Her unique style of gymnastics made her a crowd favorite, and she was a valuable contributor for the past two years.”

At the Ute Fan Fest on Saturday, Neff received a lot of support from teammates and fans about her premature retirement. She was surrounded by people for most of event showing how much of a fan favorite she really was.

“Everyone’s supporting me,” Neff said. “All the fans are coming up to me, all my teammates and family, I just have everyone behind me right now.”

The Mesa, Ariz., native missed the first half of the season last year due to her back injury. She came off the injured list with a bang competing on the floor in six straight meets. Her season and career best was a 9.80 on the floor at Nebraska and Oregon State. She also competed on the bars against Nebraska and scored a 9.75 while hitting six of seven routines. Off the mat, she was an NACGC Scholastic All-American and made the Athletics Academic Honor Roll.

With the loss of Neff, the NCAA Championship runner-up Utes will be left with 11 gymnasts on their roster, making them one shy of the allowable NCAA scholarship figure. The decision was a tough one, but Neff knew it was the right decision in the end.

“I know that it’s the best decision, but it’s just a hard one to make,” Neff said. “Gymnastics is my life so now I’m like, all right, now what am I going to do?”

Two new gymnasts will join the team in 2009 in an effort to help fill the void Neff leaves. Freshman Cortni Beers and Stephanie McAllister will join the NCAA National Champion runner-up, which also lost Ashley Postell, Jessica Duke and Katie Kavisto to graduation.

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Anna Kartashova

Back injuries have forced Stephanie Neff into an early retirement from gymnastics.