The University of Utah's training room, quiet for the first several weeks of the season, is suddenly busy.
Natalie Nicoloff is out with an elbow injury, Gabi Onodi is nursing a sore ankle, and Nicolle Ford has a banged-up heel after crashing in warmups at Saturday's meet at Minnesota. Kristen Riffanacht and Rachel Tidd are slowed by hamstring and back problems, respectively.
"Luckily, nothing is major, it is just that they've all come at once, and that makes it tough right now," Utah coach Greg Marsden said.
Utah's injuries didn't hurt Saturday in the win at Minnesota, but Marsden is eager to have everyone healthy again, before it hinders the Utes' preparation for the push to nationals.
"We can't afford to back off too much; we need to get some upgrades going, especially on floor," he said.
On that event, only Riffanacht and Gritt Hofmann end their routines with "D" level passes. Eventually, Ashley Postell, Tidd and Ford will all end their routines with high-level-of-difficulty moves.
"From an impression standpoint, it's good for them to end with a D, or at least have two-tenths of a bonus on their last pass," he said.
Utah's main focus this week in practice will be seeing who is healthy enough to compete against No. 13 BYU on Friday in the Huntsman Center.
Utah is averaging 10,487 fans, and that number should go up with the Cougars coming to town, traditionally the big draw of the year for both schools. BYU is enjoying one of its best seasons, with its only loss being to No. 9 Oklahoma in the season-opener in Cancun. BYU has never beaten Utah in the Huntsman Center.
"I'm from California, but it is still a big meet to me because everyone else makes such a huge deal about it," Tidd said.
More than two points separate the teams in the rankings, but the lower scoring this year has led to closer meets when teams are on the same floor together, regardless of what they've done in the past.
"We have to be consistent, we can't expect just to win," Marsden said.
Both No. 18 Southern Utah and Utah State have busy weeks. The two compete in Cedar City tonight, then SUU plays host to Boise State on Friday, and Utah State welcomes Denver. The Thunderbirds are 1-3 and Utah State is 0-3.
Shining for the T-birds this year is senior Carly Geronimo, who is ranked No. 12 nationally with a 9.869 average on the floor.
"I hate to jinx anything in my mind, but it has been a good season so far," Geronimo said. "I'm out there just doing the best that I can."
Geronimo knows how quickly a season can change, struggling with ankle and shoulder injuries her sophomore year. Last season, she competed in the all-around at every meet, and set the SUU all-around record with a 39.425.
Her high ranking on the floor surprises her a bit, since she considers the balance beam and uneven bars her best events.
"I'm not that strong of a tumbler, I'm not out there doing double layouts or anything, but I am good at the dance and leaps," she said. "It's interesting, the judges are really liking it this year."
In the ranks
Postell is ranked second in the all-around, sixth on the balance beam and seventh on the floor. Tidd slipped from first to fourth on the uneven bars and is fifth in the all-around. Ford is ninth on the bars and beam and Annabeth Eberle is ninth on the vault. . . . BYU's highest-ranked gymnast is Marie-Helene Claveau, ranked No. 12 on the vault and No. 19 on the balance beam.
Here comes the judge
The new system of flying in judges for meets has helped hold the scores down, but it has come at a price for some teams.
Southern Utah University had to cancel two of its home meets because of the added burden on its budget. It is flying in judges for three of its five home meets.
According to coach Scott Bauman, paying for judges' travel and board eats up about 40 percent of his budget now, as opposed to just 10 to 15 percent in the past.
"We could only afford to do it for three meets; we're a small school, but I wanted us to do it because it's fair," he said.
Team Avg High
1 Utah 196.290 197.675
2 Michigan 196.254 196.750
3 LSU 196.115 197.250
4 Alabama 196.055 197.175
5 UCLA 195.921 197.300
6 Florida 195.845 196.950
7 Georgia 195.480 195.850
8 Nebraska 195.420 196.800
9 Oklahoma 195.185 195.900
10 Iowa State 195.155 195.850
11 Denver 194.900 195.275
12 Arkansas 194.865 195.725
13 BYU 194.850 195.575
14 C. Michigan 194.392 195.925
15 Auburn 194.315 195.325
16 Penn State 194.310 196.300
17 Kentucky 194.255 195.525
18 Southern Utah 194.194 195.525
19 Washington 194.115 195.075
20 Arizona 194.080 194.900
21 Oregon State 193.795 195.200
22 Arizona State 193.735 195.700
23 Ohio State 193.694 194.775
24 Michigan State 193.687 195.475
25 Minnesota 193.665 194.450
The week ahead
Utah State at No. 18 SUU, 7 p.m., tonight
No. 13 BYU at No. 1 Utah, 7 p.m., Friday
Boise State at No. 18 SUU, 7 p.m., Friday
No. 11 Denver at Utah State, 6:45 p.m., Friday