Utah's Little Team That Could may be even smaller than usual tonight at the NCAA Midwest Regional women's gymnastics meet at Nebraska, but the Utes have no choice but to succeed despite more injuries. If they don't, they don't go to the 1995 NCAA Championships April 20-22 at Georgia to defend their 1994 title.

Utah, 16-1, ranked second in the nation behind Georgia, heads the seven-team regional field that includes second-seeded Arizona State (16-7), Arizona (10-4), Nebraska (16-4), Utah State (10-9), Oklahoma (12-4) and Brigham Young (8-8) plus a field of seven at-large qualifiers, four from Southern Utah.Winners of the nation's five regionals automatically qualify for the NCAA meet in Athens, Ga. The rest of the 12-team NCAA field is comprised of the teams with the seven next-best regional scores. Since scoring trends vary between regions, a high score is imperative to ensure an NCAA berth.

Utah hasn't lost a regional since 1987 and has never failed to qualify for nationals, but coach Greg Marsden, whose teams have nine national titles in 19 tries, says, "I'm not going to take it for granted."

The squeeze is on the Utes, who have only seven gymnasts and may be without two of them tonight. Freshman Monica Shaw, whose best event is bars, hyperextended an elbow this week, and junior Megan Caudle hurt her sacroiliac about 10 days ago. Caudle, a three-event standout who ranks third nationally on beam, 11th on floor and 12th on vault, hasn't practiced all week. Caudle says she's determined to compete, but Marsden isn't so sure.

If they're out, Utah could be down to the minimum of five competitors in some events, leaving no margin for an off-night.

Really scary was the news earlier this week that Aimee Trepanier and Sandy Woolsey were in an auto accident, rear-ended at a stoplight. They were unhurt, but, "We almost did not have a team," says Marsden. "I don't know from one day to the next whether I'll get a call and the year will be over."

Another worry was a 10-day letdown after Utah's emotionally charged meet of two weeks ago. The Utes set a school record (197.875 vs. BYU) on Senior Night for Trepanier and Suzanne Metz (who scored the first two 10s of her career and set the NCAA all-around record, 39.95, to give her the nation's No. 1 ranking) in front of 50 former Utes who traveled in for the program's 20th-anniversary reunion night. Woolsey also scored her first career 10, and freshman Traci Sommer became the first Ute freshman with a 10.

"The last meet was a culmination of a very emotional weekend, and that probably wasn't the best thing in terms of what we're trying to accomplish (postseason)," says Marsden. "Now we know we can do that; the challenge is to put that behind us," he says.

Utah's good news is that Trepanier, held to one or two events by a preseason back injury that threatened to end her career, is back as an all-arounder (39.50 vs. BYU) and that Sommer seems to have rebounded from a midseason slump. Sommer hit 39.425 vs. BYU after five meets in the 37s and 38s. "I was questioning myself, paying attention to the small details that might have been off. I blew things out of proportion," she says. Now, "I know it's not necessary," she says.

USU (seeded fifth, ranked 14th nationally) and BYU (seeded seventh, ranked 18th) may have to equal or better their season bests (193.95 USU, 194.175 BYU) to qualify for Athens. BYU was an NCAA-finals team 1994 (ninth), '91 (eighth) and '92 (12th); USU's only NCAA trip was in '91 (12th).

USU hit the three best scores in school history in March and has its highest Regional Qualifying Score ever, as well as all-around school-record-holder Tricia Yamamoto (39.175).

BYU has the same numbers trouble as Utah, with an eight-person team. BYU is coming off its two best scores of the season (194.175, 193.70). Senior Nanette Walker upped the school record to 39.45 in the Utah meet.

SUU's entrants include freshman Angie Gunnell of Orem (39.05 career high), whose RQS is best among at-large regional individual qualifiers and 10th among all Midwest Region entrants.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

1995 NCAA Midwest women's gymnastics regional

Teams

Seed team Qualifying score

1. Utah 196.46875

2. Arizona State 194.35000

3. Arizona 193.52500

4. Nebraska 193.23750

5. Utah State 193.15000

6. Oklahoma 193.13750

7. Brigham Young 192.74375

At-large qualifiers

Name, team Qualifying score

Angie Gunnell, Southern Utah 38.76250

Stacy Fullmer, Southern Utah 38.00625

Lenee Berumen, Denver U. 37.91875

Becky Faulkner, Texas Woman's 37.85000

Julie Talbot, Southern Utah 37.81875

Laura Servidone, Texas Woman's 37.21825

Dawn Kisellburgh, Southern Utah 37.26250

Top all-arounders

Seed name, team Qualifying score

1. Suzanne Metz, Utah 39.58125

2. Sandy Woolsey, Utah 39.18125

3. Meagan Wright, Arizona State 39.11250

4. Traci Sommer, Utah 39.08750

5. Tenli Poggemeyer, Arizona 38.90000

6. Nanette Walker, Brigham Young 38.88125

7. Shelly Bartlett, Nebraska 38.84375

8. Tricia Yamamoto, Utah State 38.82500

9. Kelley Delaney, Utah 38.81250

10. Angie Gunnell, Southern Utah 38.76250