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Wolf in spotlight tonight

Oh, the wolf howls will be out tonight.

But anyone hearing them in the Huntsman Center will probably know enough to look down at the floor and not toward the moon.

There, on the competition floor as Utah's gymnasts host a dangerous BYU at 7 p.m. on KJZZ, fans will see for almost the last time Utah's only senior, its lone Wolf.

Theresa Wolf will be honored before the meet as a one-woman Ute graduating class as both Utah and BYU compete for the last time in the 2001 regular season.

Her fifth-ranked team will attempt to win its 164th straight home regular-season meet against the team that came closest in the past 22 years to beating the Utes on this floor.

BYU, now 10-4 and ranked 12th, lost by half a point last year.

Wolf is the only Ute who was alive the last time Utah lost a home regular-season meet back in February 1979, and she was only eight days old.

"I love the howling now," says Wolf, whose senior season is her best, making the howling louder than ever. "Initially, I didn't. I was really embarrassed," she says.

It began with a recording played over the P.A. system that was picked up by fans watching the two-time Canadian World Championships team member when she was a freshman. "It stuck with me the rest of my four years."

The 12-1-1 Utes must be wary tonight because a young BYU team is coming on strong, and top Ute all-arounder Deidra Graham is out with a knee injury suffered last week at Florida. She may try bars, but that's all.

"It's a pretty big loss," Ute coach Greg Marsden says. Graham ranks fourth nationally with a 39.465 Regional Qualifying all-around score.

BYU's Kelly Parkinson ranks right behind Graham at 39.430 and is coming off a school-record 39.625 set as BYU broke its team scoring record with 197.325 at home last week. The Cougars have set team records in every event this season, and coach Brad Cattermole sees senior Kim Little as capable of 39.60, too.

"We've done enough that we worry Utah more than we used to," said Cattermole, who considers the Y. an "overachiever. I didn't think this team would turn out to be as good as it is," he says. If the Cougars relax and don't worry about scoring, "The scores will take care of themselves," he says.

It's unlikely Utah can make any move on the poll, says Marsden, because it already has high home-meet scores.

Wolf was energized by Utah's dramatic second-place finish in the 2000 NCAA Championships. A team without injured Shannon Bowles, Theresa Kulikowski and Erin Prewitt (retired) and an ill Kylee Wagner, really challenged for the national title.

Last year's four seniors gathered a wounded club for one of its finest moments, and she thinks she started to help lead then. Wolf was Utah's top all-arounder on Super Six night scoring a career-tying 39.425.

Last summer, while she worked out with her mother, Anne Louise, another maturing occurred. Wolf's body responded. She came back visibly leaner, something she'd tried to do for years. "I didn't change much," she says of her routine. Marsden says it was probably maturation.

It allowed the team captain to set career bests in all-around (39.45), bars (9.925 twice) and floor (9.95) and to hit 35 of her 40 routines this season "It's been my best year here," she says. "I wanted to have a good senior year and go out on a good note."

Wolf came to Utah as a burnout case who almost didn't want a college scholarship and nearly retired at age 14. Her mother convinced her to try a different club, and she went on with an extensive international schedule. College gymnastics appealed only because many told her the team aspect made it enjoyable. She figured she might regret it if she didn't try it.

She's happy she did. "People are genuinely trying to help you; you're treated as equals in the gym," she says.

Tonight is almost the last home glimpse of Utah's lone Wolf. Utah hosts the NCAA Regional April 7, so she doesn't have that final feeling yet. "Because it hasn't sunk in, it doesn't seem like a big deal," Wolf said. "I am expecting on having a great meet. It is motivation on my side to do well." She loves the spotlight, and she's learned to love the wolf howls that go with it.

Gymnastics on the air

BYU at Utah

Friday, 7 p.m. at the Huntsman Center

TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14


E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com