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Utah gymnastics will recognize three seniors Saturday

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s gymnastics team will recognize its three seniors, Kailah Delaney, Breanna Hughes and Kassandra Lopez on Saturday. The seniors have seen ups and downs during their time at Utah but have persevered to make their final season standout.

For Delaney and Lopez, the senior seasons end a year after they anticipated. Both suffered season-ending injuries — Lopez an Achilles tear her junior season and Delaney a knee injury her sophomore season — that put them a year behind their original class after being granted a redshirt.

Delaney took Utah’s by storm from the debut of her sky-high vaults. The California native hasn’t seen the 9.95’s she was accustomed to the event this season due to the scoring change around the Yerchenko full, but has still been a force while also contributing on beam and floor. Delaney’s knee has given her more trouble this season as she’s missed two meets and was limited to only vault last week. She’s slated for vault Saturday and hoping to add beam as well.

“I feel like there have been a lot of ups and a lot of downs with my career, but injury is part of the sport,” said Delaney. “I wouldn’t change anything about my career and I’m so glad I came to Utah. This season, I’ve been trying to enjoy every second and am having a lot of fun.”

Delaney is a three-time All-American, has hit 77-81 career routines and already earned a bachelor’s degree in health society and policy last spring.

Hughes produced a great freshman season in which she competed regularly on bars and beam. She didn’t see the same results as a sophomore and junior, but stuck with it and battled everything from a lingering back injury to an allergic reaction while on the beam at the 2013 NCAA Regionals — Hughes is allergic to peanuts and was exposed during a meet but was able to finish her routine.

She’s been the team’s best gymnast this season, hitting a career-high in the all-around last weekend of 39.65. The Minnesota native has hit 92-95 career routines and earned second-team All-America honors as a freshman on beam. She's finishing up a degree in human development and family studies.

“I kind of have mixed emotions for Saturday. I’m super excited, but sad because you know you are coming to the end of four great years,” said Hughes. “It’s hard to believe it has gone by this fast. We have such great team chemistry this season, and that has made every moment awesome and enjoyable.”

Lopez battled back from the Achilles tear and fought her way into three lineups including vault, which is an event she had only competed in once before in college as a freshman. The Arizona native is one of Utah’s best bars workers and earned second-team All-America honors. She was a two-time NCAA regional runner-up, once on bars and once on beam before the injury. She has hit 78-82 career routines.

“My career has been a dream come true,” said Lopez. “I’ve met a lot of great people who have helped me. I’ve had some ups and downs, and I’ve also learned a lot about myself.”

Lopez is a first-generation college student who earned her degree in health, society and policy last spring. She’s working on pre-requisites for a graduate degree in nutrition.

“It means everything to my family for me to graduate and have this opportunity,” said Lopez. “I think they’ll be crying more than me at senior night. It’s been a great experience and we are all really grateful.”

The trio is the first senior class to graduate without 40-year coach Greg Marsden at the helm. Utah co-head coach Megan Marsden credits the senior trio for leading this year’s young squad, which includes eight underclassmen through the transition.

“This has been a quieter group (the seniors), and we asked them to step out of their shell to lead this team,” said Megan. “They’ve risen to become more leadership-type athletes with our program. We needed that this year with our transition and they’ve helped lead this young team beyond what many thought they could do.”

For Megan and co-head coach Tom Farden, it’s been equally fun to watch the seniors’ success on the floor.

“Nobody has been more proud than Tom and I to really watch these three have the best seasons of their careers,” said Megan. “As the light shined upon them this year, they really blossomed.”

Fifth-ranked Utah’s meet against No. 9 Georgia begins at 5 p.m. Fans are asked to be in their seats by 4:45 p.m. for the senior recognition.