Casey Bryan of Woods Cross was on target to compete this past season in the senior division in gymnastics. That could have put him up against guys like defending national champion John Roethlisberger of Minnesota and several former Olympians this week in the Coca-Cola National Gymnastics Championships at the Delta Center. Last fall, Bryan was the country's top-ranked junior.

Last winter, though, while he was practicing a move in his floor exercise routine, Bryan, then 17, dislocated an elbow and had to have surgery on it.He has competed only once since the injury, winning the USA Invitational in Colorado Springs June 25 to qualify for the 1993 National Championships.

Bryan could have chosen to enter the senior division this week, but he's still eligible for the 19-under junior division, too, and that's where he'll be for one last meet - in his hometown.

"I've only competed the compulsories once. It's only my second meet in over a year, so I don't want to all of a sudden jump in with the big guys," says Bryan from his room at U. of Oklahoma, where he's been the past few weeks training with his new Sooner teammates.

Monday's the first day of classes, and he'll miss the rest of the week. He and his adviser have been talking to his instructors about his absence. Bryan is a top student planning to major in physical therapy.

When Bryan takes to the Delta Center floor for the first time in the junior compulsories at 10 a.m. Wednesday, he'll represent Woods Cross's USA Gymnastics World club, where he's always trained.

"A lot of guys that are freshmen in college are going junior," Bryan says. Many, however, are hurt, and there are only eight in the class at this meet. Seven make the national junior team.

"I'm in with the juniors, so it's not a huge deal," Bryan tells himself.

His mother, Marsha, says he's nervous anyway. "It's his first really big meet at home," she says, noting lots of friends and family will watch. "I tell him to treat it like any other meet," she says.

"I'm a little worried because it's my hometown. It could be good; it could be bad," says Casey.

USA Gymnastics World coach Chris Leech says that, in juniors, "He'll be the favorite going in if he hits. If he hits all 12 routines, he would be up there with the senior division, too." Scores are comparable because the same compulsories are used. "It's a fine line," Leech says, between junior and senior competitors.

Bryan says the elbow feels pretty good now. It hurts occasionally. "It always will," he says.

Leech says Bryan will water down some of his routines because of the elbow, "but he'll still be doing as much as anybody in the meet on some things."

Bryan says he no longer worries about the arm, though it was tough at first. "It hurt a lot," he says. "It was really weird because I favored it so much; it took a long time to get to the point where I was pushing as hard as on the other elbow."

Bryan hopes to place in the top three this week.

A good showing will help Bryan get more international meets, and that would help his chances of qualifying for the American team for the world team championships next year. International competition plus the grueling college schedule should help him move toward his goal of making the 1996 Olympic team.