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Utah rocks

But Kulio, Kylee are injured in Ute victory

First former NCAA all-around champion Theresa Kulikowski, finally back to full strength to start this season, limped off the floor following a fall on bars. Then senior Kylee Wagner lay in a crumpled heap after coming down wrong on her left ankle and was carried off the floor.

Utah's fifth-ranked gymnastics team had no problem winning its opening meet Friday night in the Huntsman Center, 196.20-193.80 over 18th-ranked Ohio State, which had weaknesses on bars and beam.

But the night was "a mixed effort — some good things, and it exposed some things that we need to work on in the gym," said Ute coach Greg Marsden. After he thought about it, he added that "there were fewer obvious mistakes" than there were good things.

Of having two opening-night injuries, he shrugged, "Nobody's going to feel sorry for us. I feel bad for Kylee, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves."

It appeared that Kulikowski had only a bruised right kneecap, and no problem to her left, which received a new anterior cruciate ligament two years ago. After peeling off the underside of the high bar after her Jaeger and nearly crashing into the low bar with her face, she hit the knee on the floor and limped off. She returned to score 9.9 on balance beam but felt a twinge warming up for floor and took herself out of that event.

Ironically, that put Wagner on the floor, and coming out of a front layout 1 1/2 and punching into the next move, Wagner landed strangely on her left ankle and went down. She was carried off the floor by assistant coach Aki Hummel. The immediate diagnosis was an inversion sprain, but X-rays were to be taken as a precaution.

Senior Shannon Bowles led the good side of the meet for Utah, winning the all-around with 39.45, just .15 off her career best. "I hadn't really thought about it until floor was over," she said of having a strong score. "I was just trying to enjoy (the meet)." Her vault was good enough though not her best, and after she "pulled it out" she scored 9.9 on bars, and the meet's highest score, 9.95, on beam, then had 9.875 on floor, the score drawing a chorus of boos from the 8,610 in attendance.

Marsden said the judging was fine, especially since collegians are using the new code of points that changes every fourth year. "When we did a nice job, they rewarded us, and when we made mistakes, they deducted. It's fun when the crowd disagrees, but hopefully it doesn't make any difference to the judges." Still, he hopes to hear more crowd dissatisfaction with scores in the future. "It makes it fun," he said.

Senior Deidra Graham would have made it a race for the all-around had she not vaulted way low and scored 9.625. She still scored 39.15 for second. Ohio State's only all-arounder, Laura Somerville, scored 38.075. The Buckeyes' best individual score of the night was Amanda Allen's 9.85 on floor.

The feisty Graham, after scoring 9.825 on beam, punched Marsden in the arm afterward and told him that was the first time in her career she'd hit her opening-night beam routine. He was glad she told him afterward, he said. Graham has only missed three routines in each of her last two seasons, including once each on opening beam.

Utah opened more aggressively in vault than usual "because I felt like we could be," Marsden said. Veronique Leclerc won with 9.825, then added 9.9 to tie with Bowles for the bars title.

Freshman Annabeth Eberle, the country's No. 1 recruit, had said she'd be nervous in front of such a big crowd, and she fell on an exhibition bars set and fell again on a counting beam set before a 9.85 floor routine. "Finally on the last event, she allowed herself to do what she's capable of," said Marsden. "All that will come. Hopefully, people saw the potential in her and saw the potential with our team."

The Utes host Arizona next Friday at 7 in the Huntsman Center.


E-mail: lham@desnews.com