PROVO -- Even before the season began, the BYU women's gymnastics team suffered some tough losses.
The Cougars officially start the 1999 campaign Friday with a meet at the Rocky Mountain Open in Colorado Springs (against Air Force, Oklahoma, Denver and Texas), but they will do so without three of their four top gymnasts.Last week, senior Denise Pauga, BYU's top all-arounder, slipped off the bars and broke her hand in practice. "It was a freak accident," said coach Brad Cattermole. Pauga will be out for the season.
No. 2 all-arounder Natalie Emig Broekman sprained an ankle last week in practice and will miss this weekend's meet, though she should be back for at least one event in Jan. 29 meet at home against Utah.
"It's like losing your star quarterback and receiver in one weekend," Cattermole said of Pauga and Broekman. "We just lost Randall Cunningham and Randy Moss."
Another top all-arounder, Kelly Christensen, left BYU because of academic and honor code problems and is transferring elsewhere.
So, just when it appeared the Cougars were entering a new stratosphere, having earned their first-ever full-meet victory over Utah late last season, BYU has apparently been brought back down to earth.
Considering the setbacks, Cattermole would be justified to wallow in self-pity. Instead, he chooses to take an optimistic approach.
"The silver lining to all this is our younger kids will get the experience they wouldn't have gotten otherwise," he said. "Other people are going to have to pick it up."
That means freshman Kelly Parkinson of Houston and sophomore Kim Little are suddenly BYU's top-rated gymnasts.
"We didn't want to throw Kelly to the wolves," Cattermole said. "We would have rather worked her in in one or two events. But that's the way it goes sometimes."
While Cattermole concedes his young gymnasts will have to grow up fast, he is confident they are ready for the task.
Fortunately for the Cougars, they are deep and talented. Mindi Hilton (all-around) of West Jordan, Leah Jacobs (uneven bars), and Jennifer Thomas (all-around) will also be counted on heavily.
Despite the preseason woes, Cattermole insists his team, ranked 12th in the preseason poll, won't make excuses.
"Ultimately this will make them stronger," he said. "Nothing has changed about our goals, We have the same expectations. We expect to be there at the end of the season and be competing in the postseason at the NCAAs."