Gymastics: Utes say goodbye to five senior specialists

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Every team needs a few role players to complement the superstars. Tonight against BYU, the Utes say goodbye to five of them in their final appearance at the Huntsman Center.

Utah's five seniors are the largest group the program has graduated. Also distinguishing the group is the lack of an all-around competitor. It's unusual, but not necessarily a bad thing.

"They're a good, solid group, and they've all played important roles at some point," Utah coach Greg Marsden said.

Over the last four years, this class has earned a 42-10 record with three regional championships and finished at the NCAA Championships last year, Utah's highest placing since finishing second in 2000.

The five - Gritt Hofmann, Natalie Nicoloff, Gabi Onodi, Kristen Riffanacht and Dominique D'Oliveira - weren't recruited as specialists, but their careers are finishing that way.

An old shoulder injury has prevented Hofmann from working on the uneven bars while Onodi's final year has been marked by injuries and illnesses. She competed once on the bars, and may do so again, but her floor routine is lacking the skill level of her teammates'. She was planning to upgrade it, but a recent ankle injury means she'll probably concentrate on the other three events.

Riffanacht's senior year started with a twisted ankle that limited her to just one beam routine in the first three meets. Since then, she has gotten back into the lineup on beam and floor and has done well in exhibition on the other events, making her one of the first options if Marsden wants to hold out a regular contributor or if someone gets hurt.

Nicoloff, whose season ended a month ago when she dislocated her elbow during practice, has been a beam specialist most of her career. D'Oliveira has been a bars specialist during her career.

D'Oliveira, from South Africa, has competed just three times this year, but may become Utah's leadoff on the bars now that Katie Kivisto (dislocated elbow) has joined Nicoloff on the injured list for the rest of the season.

Riffanacht might also break into the Utes' lineup on bars and vault depending on who is healthy.

"We need those in the first and second spots in the lineup to to do a nice job, because that's where our lack of depth shows up the most," Marsden said.

Having Hofmann in the group has been a bonus for the Utes. She was granted a fifth year by the NCAA for medical hardship because a back injury limited her to one meet her freshman season.

Hofmann didn't know she was going to get a fifth year when she was honored in last year's senior night. What she thought was her final meet in the Huntsman Center didn't turn out well when she scored just 9.875 on the floor.

Now she has a chance at a rare do-over. The biggest obstacle now is making sure she can compete, as both she and Nicolle Ford were fighting a bout of strep throat.

"I'm just going to try and relax this time and not put too much pressure on myself," she said. "It doesn't have to be perfect."



#23 Brigham Young at #2 Utah

7 p.m., Huntsman Center