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Hopes were that a week off would allow Utah gymnast Kari Lee to heal from a high ankle sprain well enough to let the sophomore compete in the NCAA Championships, starting Friday in St. Louis.
It appears those hopes might turn into disappointment. Lee, who competed only on the uneven bars at regionals due to the sprained ankle, might be limited to that event again for the NCAAs.
Technically, the Utes could wait to make an official decision as late as the Friday's preliminary rounds since she could be inserted into the event lineups before they begin. However, coach Megan Marsden said she and co-coach Tom Farden wouldn't wait that long before a final decision, and that the Utes will re-evaluate the situation after Thursday's practice rounds at Chaifetz Arena.
"We still have a little more time to decide now, but we feel like we need to let the team know before the meet so they can prepare," she said. "We'd hoped she would be further along, but high ankle sprains are one of the worst."
If Lee isn't available, she would be replaced by Erika Muhaw on the vault and Shannon McNatt on the balance beam. Muhaw scored a 9.75 at regionals on the vault while McNatt won the balance beam in her debut, scoring 9.9. Lee logged a 9.9 on the uneven bars at regionals.
Even with Lee, the Utes have 10 active gymnasts since sophomore All-America Sabrina Schwab (knee) and freshman Kim Tessen (Achilles tendon) have been sidelined since January with injuries.
Nevertheless, the Utes enter the championships in good spirits, Marsden said.
"I feel like this group has really come together and they are as tight a group as they can be," she said.
The all-around and event winners will be awarded from Friday's preliminary rounds. Normally competing in the afternoon is considered a negative because scores tend to be higher in the evening session.
However, the Utes do benefit by having top-ranked Oklahoma in their session. That means MyKayla Skinner, who is ranked second in the all-around, will be able to go head-to-head against Oklahoma's Maggie Nichols and Chayse Capps, who are ranked first and third in the all-around, respectively.
Skinner, who has won 11 of 12 all-around competitions this year, is trying to become Utah's first all-around champion since Theresa Kulikowski in 1999.
Skinner is also ranked No. 1 on the floor and seventh on the vault. Other gymnasts who have a chance at doing well individually include Baely Rowe, who is ranked fifth in the all-around and 13th on the beam and Tiffani Lewis, who won the Pac-12 vault title.
Hitting all cylinders
The Utes have stressed all year the importance of hitting all their routines, although only five are scored. However, they recognize there is something to be said for momentum and that scores tend to rise when all routines are hit.
The Utes have hit 24 for 24 in four meets this season, against Washington, Oregon State, UCLA and at regionals and are 277 of 288 in made routines total.
Utah junior Maddy Stover said the team is best served to focus on hitting every routine rather than focusing on individual scores.
"We shouldn't focus on being at nationals or the apparatus," she said. "We just need to hit our routines and see where that takes us."
The Utes will represent
Utah is known for its high attendance figures, having won the all-sport women's attendance title for the fourth year in a row by averaging 15,224 fans for home meets in 2017. Utah will have an estimated 250 fans traveling to St. Louis for the NCAAs.
"We have a good group of hardcore fans making the trip," Marsden said. "We know they will be feisty."
The NCAA Championships will be broadcast live by ESPN, with Friday's early session slated for ESPN2 at 11 a.m. MDT. The evening session will start on ESPNU at 6 p.m. MDT, then finish live on ESPN starting at 7 p.m. MDT. Saturday's Super Six will be broadcast on ESPNU beginning at 7 p.m. MDT.
NCAA Gymnastics Championships
At Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis
TV • Afternoon session ESPN2; Evening session ESPNU and ESPN
Top 3 teams from each session advance to Friday's Super Six, 7 p.m. MDT
Afternoon Session, 11 a.m. MDT
(Starting event listed next to team)
No. 1 Oklahoma (bye before floor)
No. 4 Utah (vault)
No. 6 UCLA (bye before bars)
No. 7 Denver (beam)
No. 11 Washington (bars)
No. 12 Oregon State (floor)
Evening Session, 6 p.m. MDT
No. 2 LSU (bye before floor)
No. 3 Florida (vault)
No. 5 Michigan (bye before bars)
No. 8 Alabama (floor)
No. 9 Georgia (beam)
No. 10 Nebraska (bars)