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Utah gymnast Kassandra Lopez swinging high on the bars

SALT LAKE CITY — By all regards, Utah gymnast Kassandra Lopez could be as frustrated or angry as anybody. But it’s just not her style. Instead, Lopez is one who prefers to find the positive in what life throws at her.

Take last season, for example. Lopez was poised to add vault, and possibly floor, to her resume that already included bars and beam. The Arizona native had seen great success on bars and beam, including being the NCAA regional runner-up for both events as a freshman. Her sophomore year, she hit 20-21 routines and recorded Utah’s highest beam score at 9.925. So, 2014 was meant to be her big season.

But Lopez spent last year in a role very different from what she imagined after she tore her Achilles while warming up for Utah’s opener. Lopez had to adapt from being a part-time cheerleader and part-time competitor to full-time cheerleader. But Lopez remained positive and continued to root for her teammates.

“I’m always happy to contribute wherever I can, whether that’s cheering or competing,” said Lopez.

After a long recovery, Lopez came into this season knowing she’d earned her spot back on bars.

“We really can’t imagine our bars lineup without Kass in it,” said Utah co-head coach Greg Marsden.

She’s competed in every meet and hasn’t hit lower than 9.85, which was a one-time deal. She recorded a career-best 9.925 in Utah’s win over Stanford last weekend and hasn’t had a fall. That career-best set up her teammates Corrie Lothrop, who also hit a career-best 9.95, and Georgia Dabritz, who recorded a 10.0.

“I think our bars lineup does a great job building on each routine,” said Lothrop. “Kassandra is a big part of that.”

Sure, Lopez would like to be back on beam, where she is close to cracking the lineup, and vault, because these additions would get her back where she left off before the injury. But sometimes being patient is OK, as the junior knows she has another season because of her medical redshirt.

“I’d like to be competing more events, but I also have been able to focus more on bars because it’s my only event,” said Lopez. “I’m still able to train on beam and vault in practice, but am not training floor so I stay healthy and can get through the season healthy. I have next year to focus on that event.”

Lopez admits the road back wasn’t easy, but believes she’s in a good place overall.

“I feel comfortable with how things are going,” said Lopez. “Part of coming back is mental. I had a mindset before the injury, and it has changed some. But I think things are close to being normal again, especially when I’ll be able to train floor.”

Taking everything in stride, Lopez admits a positive is that she’ll earn two bachelor’s degrees with the extra year. Her education has always been at the forefront as a first-generation college student.

“I’m graduating this spring in health society and policy,” said Lopez. “My parents are so excited to come to graduation, and then I’ll work on a sociology degree next year.”

Lopez and the fourth-ranked Red Rocks are back in action Friday as they travel to No. 12 Oregon State.

Rankings and awards

Utah ranks No. 1 on vault, No. 3 on bars and No. 5 on beam and floor. Dabritz, who was named Pac-12 specialist of the week after her 10.0 against Stanford, is No. 1 on vault and bars (tied) and is No. 5 on floor. Lopez ranks No. 9 on bars, and Kari Lee is No. 9 on beam. Tory Wilson is sixth in the all-around.