Underclassmen step up to cover for Kim

By Bryan Chouinard, Staff Writer

All season long, Red Rocks fans have been dazzled by Utah’s three-headed monster in the all-around competition, comprised of seniors Nina Kim and Kristina Baskett and junior Jamie Deetscreek.

But two weeks ago, just days before Utah’s West regional qualifier in Seattle, Wash., Kim, the No. 6 all-around competitor in the country, caught the flu.

But Utah showed its depth when three underclassmen stepped up in her absence. Whether his team is completely healthy or not, head coach Greg Marsden might need much of the same this weekend when Utah tries to win its first NCAA championship since 1995.

At regionals, sophomore Jacquelyn Johnson stepped up for Kim by performing the first uneven bar routine of her Utah career and scored a 9.825, while fellow sophomore Gael Mackie matched Johnson with a 9.825 of her own on the vault, which was also a career high.

“It’s been especially frustrating for (Johnson),” Marsden said. “She’s a talented athlete and her first year she was sidelined due to various injuries. So that was really important for her, to take advantage of that opportunity. It was good for her and the team as well.”

Marsden knows it will be more than two seniors that will need to be ready when called upon and any winning program has all athletes involved, not just a select few.

“If you’re going to win, everyone needs to be ready,” Marsden said. “We have a lot of people on our sidelines waiting for opportunities. We all know they’re capable and here we are now competing in nationals, and a lot can happen. Those people, waiting to get in the rotation, are just as important as the people who are scheduled to line up for us right now. I’ve seen it happen on numerous occasions where something will happen and we’ll need someone to step in at the last minute.”

The sophomore showed the maturity of a senior, stepping in on short notice to fill the void left by Kim.

“I wasn’t caught off guard at all,” Mackie said. “I have a lot of alternate roles8212;I have all year. So before each meet, I am warming up on every single event, so that has helped.”

Mackie is expected to contribute on both bars and beam this weekend in Nebraska.

Freshman Stephanie McAllister also filled in during Kim’s absence and did so in an impressive fashion by setting two career highs8212;a 9.8 on the beam and a 9.850 on the floor. McAllister has also been a constant contributor all season on the uneven bars.

“One of the things we look for when recruiting is what type of experiences they’ve had and how those experiences and situations they’ve been in can help us,” Marsden said. “The whole mentality of our team has been to think nationals. Many of our players have been to nationals before. So they’ve learned how to cope with the pressure.”

Baskett understands the importance of role players like Johnson, Mackie and McAllister, but knows that Johnson, her true freshman teammate from Indianapolis, and fellow freshman Cortni Beers are the only two members of the team who haven’t been to a national championship before. However, she thinks the freshmen have what it takes to make it on the big stage.

“You’re on such a high for those few days that you don’t feel the effects till after,” Baskett said. “So I’m hoping that for someone like Steph (McAllister), she will be in the moment so much that you don’t even notice. Because you compete and when you normally would let down we have treatment so you almost don’t have time to let down.”

For the Red Rocks to be successful this weekend, all of the players will have to step up within their roles, but keep their emotions in check during the high-energy atmosphere at the national championships.

“Our roles are important,” Mackie said. “Everyone has had to contribute a lot all year. Knowing that and knowing we have our work cut out for us will just reinforce what we have to do.”

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Lucas Isley

Utah Associate Head Coach Megan Marsden congratulates Gael Mackie during a meet this season. The positive performance of gymnasts like Mackie helped make up for the absence of Nina Kim during the NCAA West Regional in Seattle.