The Ute gymnasts are without their top two all-arounders and have lost their only No. 1 poll ranking in the last five years.

Now they have to cope with two in-state rivalries in the next four days, starting tonight at 7 when 3-2, 20th-ranked BYU visits the Huntsman Center. Utah is at Utah State Monday night.Fourth-ranked Utah's 153-meet home dual win streak is now officially on the line as the team enters its first full meet without defending NCAA all-around champion Theresa Kulikowski, who tore her left anterior cruciate knee ligament vaulting at LSU last Friday. She was the nation's top-ranked all-arounder at the time of her injury.

The Utes have been without junior Shannon Bowles since the preseason because of a cracked neck vertebrae that may have ended her year. And freshman Erin Prewitt is redshirting because of a pre-existing ankle problem.

Not to be harsh about it, but BYU won't have much sympathy. It is recovering from a 1999 season that coach Brad Cattermole thought would be the best in school history -- before he lost his top five athletes to season-ending injuries. "Been there, done that," he says.

BYU has so far avoided major hurts in 2000 and has improved with each meet as Denice Pauga (39.05 season best) is returning to the form she had before breaking a hand last year, Kelly Parkinson is trucking along (39.175 season high) "like a maniac," Cattermole says, Kim Little is learning to compete under control, and several freshmen have stepped strongly into the lineup. Consistency is now the goal.

Their ordeal of last year seems to have been weathered.

Utah's is just beginning.

Ute coach Greg Marsden and his athletes don't know how they'll react to life after "Kulio." A week ago, they were the top-ranked club in the country (by meet average), and all was well.

Now, people like seniors Denise Jones and Ashley Kever, junior Theresa Wolf and sophomore Deidra Graham have an opportunity worth seizing, and freshmen that were expected to progress slowly will now do that under fire.

"Starting Monday, it was, 'Get over it,' " Marsden says, adding he and the rest of the club had the weekend to grieve and ask why and then had to get back to real life.

"The name of the game is you have to pick up and move on with what we have," says Jones. "We have a really good team still. It's not the same team. But I know from experience in other years, we've had people out, and we've dealt with it."

Each person must contribute. "We all need to do our jobs," Jones says. "We had to before, but now it's real obvious.

"I don't look at it as scary. For the whole team, it's a challenge."

Marsden has tried to impress that on his athletes. "Our actions will speak volumes," he says. "I'd love to think we'll just pick up where we left off, but I don't know if that's realistic. The next few weeks may be a bit more of a roller coaster ride, but maybe they'll accept the challenge."

Graham seemed to do that immediately last week at LSU with a career-best all-around of 39.20 on short notice. That got her ranked 25th nationally, and she is sixth in the NCAA in uneven bars ranking.

Utah has little room for error on bars with only six athletes ready to compete there and five scores counting toward the team total. Marsden still sees some depth on floor and vault but worries about consistency on beam with a new lineup that doesn't include Kulikowski, also the 1999 NCAA beam champ.

Cattermole says he has been more demanding in practices this season, hoping that a grouchy coaching approach keeps minds focused on the task so that lost-concentration injuries don't occur. He has also been a conditioning demon. In meets, he tries to be happy and supportive. So far, the approach seems successful. "Our focus has been to keep their minds in the game, and they've done well at that," he says.

Cattermole even thinks his team enters this meet not thinking about meeting a highly ranked opponent in a big-crowd atmosphere -- the kind of thing that might have played on Cougar minds before.