Theresa Kulikowski and senior Ute teammates Kylee Wagner and Kim Allan looked forward to easing toward the emotional end of their gymnastics careers.
They will be honored at Senior Night tonight at the Huntsman Center when LSU visits, followed by two road meets and then an NCAA Regional meet at home April 12.
But for Kulikowski, things won't go as planned.
One of the most elegant gymnasts ever in collegiate women's gymnastics broke a little finger in practice Thursday warming up for her flight series on balance beam, and she's doubtful for tonight at 7.
Because of their work schedules, her parents haven't been able to see the Colorado Springs product compete often in college, but they will be there tonight, along with other family members and families of Oregonian Wagner and British Columbian Allan — who in about 25 years plans to be Canada's prime minister after an initial career as a medical examiner.
Unfortunately for the Utes and her, after the pre-meet senior ceremony, Kulikowski, a 12-time All-American who was the NCAA all-around and beam champion as a freshman and beam champ as a junior, will probably spend the meet supporting her teammates.
Coach Greg Marsden said it's unlikely she'll compete tonight, though she can do whatever her pain tolerance allows. If she can go, he surmised beam would be the logical event. The break is "non-displaced," which is good, in the bone that joins the hand with the first knuckle of the pinky finger.
Fractures take four to six weeks to heal, but this is non-weight-bearing, and the finger can be taped to the ring finger. Marsden guesses she'll be back in two to three weeks.
That would be in time for the regional, which decides whether Utah advances to the NCAA Championships April 24-26 at Nebraska. The Utes have never not qualified for the national finals, but they've never lost three meets at home in a season, either, like this year. Utah (5-4) is ranked seventh nationally. LSU (8-6) is 15th.
"I'm sure she's feeling a little snakebit — as we are," Marsden said of Kulikowski.
She missed the first three meets of 2003 with a dislocated rib and missed all but three meets of her sophomore year (2000) after tearing an anterior cruciate knee ligament — ironically at LSU.
It took two years to regain all-around status; she competed in bars and beam through 2001 and until mid-February of 2002, when she added vault and floor. In 2003, she's missed vaulting because of her back trouble. She hoped to be ready in a few weeks for an all-around appearance.
Kulikowski and Wagner are fifth-year seniors — rare in women's gymnastics because few redshirt — and best friends. "Kylee and I can be goofballs together," she said. "Kulio" calls herself "grandma" sometimes. "I feel wise."
Mononucleosis took Wagner out of 2000's post-season. She severely sprained an ankle in 2002's season opener and missed all of that season, then was slowed by shoulder surgery last summer.
"Half a decade," Wagner mused of her time at Utah, adding it's still passed quickly. Her best memory is being introduced for the very first time to the Ute crowd in January 1999. "It just made me feel important. They're cheering for me," she said.
"I'm excited to move on to the next phase of my life," Wagner said. She wants to be a pharmaceuticals sales rep and a Nike clothing model. She has friends at the Portland-based company just up the freeway from her Salem home.
Kulikowski's done as much in her career as she thinks she could, given her injuries. "They're just part of life," she said. She's aware of how she's grown after being a shy freshman. She's thinking of trying to get into physical therapy school, perhaps at Utah or the army program at Baylor. She wants to get into marathoning and dance to stay active.
Allan's increased leadership role this season came by design. But she surprised herself at the intensity it took on last week when her bars routine helped re-route the Utes, her fierce look jolting them all into action.
Allan spent two years trying to retrieve her aggressiveness after rupturing an Achilles tendon in February 2001. It came back for her senior year, and she's had career-high 9.95s on bars and beam, despite missing most of the season on vault and floor because she "tweaked" the Achilles after two meets. She returned on vault last Friday, then put the rock in the Red Rocks in the next event, scoring 9.875 with a bars set that broke a string of four straight people who made major mistakes in their routines.
"We deserve to win. We're going to cash in all the rewards," Allan determined about the moment that seemed to change the season. It was good training for Canada's future prime minister. Meanwhile, Allan will apply for medical school in Canada and hope to get into the forensics of coroner work.