Utah's second-ranked gymnastics team may not have one of its best gymnasts as it heads into its most important meets of the season.
Junior Nina Kim, who has hit 25 of 26 routines this season and has competed in the all-around three times, severely sprained her ankle in practice and isn't expected to compete Saturday when the Utes participate in the NCAA North Central regional championships at Minnesota.
The Utes will compete against No. 11 Arkansas, No. 14 Arizona, No. 23 Iowa, Southern Utah and Minnesota with the top two teams advancing to the NCAA Championships April 24-26.
Kim suffered the injury Friday while working on her leap series on the floor. X-rays were negative, but Utah coach Greg Marsden still isn't optimistic she'll be able to compete.
"It hurts, it hurts our team and it is devastating for her," Utah coach Greg Marsden said. "We hope to get her back by nationals, but I'm not sure she can do all four routines. It's something only time will tell."
Kim recently returned to the lineup after missing two meets because of an ankle sprain to the same leg. She scored a 39.35 in the all-around at Michigan on March 22 and earned a 9.725 on the vault and a 9.875 on the balance beam in the season finale against BYU.
Adding to the disappointment is that Kim has been one of the top gymnasts in practice lately and was enjoying a strong season after a sophomore season in which she battled to overcome depression.
"I feel really bad for Nina because she has worked so hard and she really was the best she had been all year," Marsden said. "She was challenging to be in the all-around."
Kim isn't the only gymnast who is battling injuries. Jessica Duke and Stephanie Neff have aggravated back injuries, Daria Bijak still is recovering from a knee strain suffered in the meet against the Cougars, Kristina Baskett has an ankle injury that flares occasionally and Annie DiLuzio is competing with pain in her shin.
"We had a lot of depth earlier in the season and then a bunch of little things happened," Marsden said. "But I'm sure any team in the country is dealing with injuries at this point in the season."
Marsden expects to use freshman Kyndal Robarts in Kim's place on the balance beam, and sophomore Beth Rizzo may compete on the vault instead of Kim.
Rizzo has competed just twice on the vault this season but said she would be ready.
"I do it every day in practice and with vault, it's one of the events that is easier to transfer over because it's just one skill," she said. "There is only so much your head can get in the way."
Even without Kim the Utes will be heavily favored in Minnesota, but if the Utes advance to the NCAA Championships they would miss the extra tenths Kim might be able to deliver.
"We went to UCLA when we had several out with injuries and dealt with it there OK," Marsden said. "We have to deal with it now. It's just one of those things."