Gymnastics: Ford driven to ignore injury
Two pieces of white athletic tape, a purplish hue and some swelling demonstrated Monday just how fragile the gymnastics season can be.
If the exam of Nicolle Ford's dislocated finger had shown a fracture, as was feared and would have brought an end to her season, Utah goes from being a legitimate national contender no matter what other teams do, to being a national contender only if other teams mess up.
Ford dislocated the index finger on her right hand during practice Sunday on the uneven bars. Monday morning, Utah coach Greg Marsden said Ford, at the very least, would miss the upcoming showdown with No. 1 Georgia. His mood, and the rest of the team's, was considerably better Monday afternoon when Ford showed up at practice, showing everyone she could bend the finger.
Officially, she is still listed as questionable, but Ford insists she'll be in the lineup against the Gym Dogs.
"It's just a finger, it's not like it's a major limb or anything," she said. "Bars is where it would hurt the most. I don't think it would be a huge factor on the other events."
Ford is ranked seventh nationally in the all-around and fifth on the bars and sixth on the beam. She was going from the high to the low bar, in a move called a shoot over, when she caught her finger and injured it Sunday.
It was the same move in which senior Natalie Nicoloff slipped Thursday and tore a tendon and ligament in her elbow. Nicoloff, who has only competed twice this year, is likely out for the season.
Ford has yet to fall during a routine this year, going 28-for-28, and is one of Utah's best competitors under pressure, earning big scores several times after teammates have fallen before her in the lineup.
She is a four-time All-American and team co-captain, and is one of the gymnasts who vowed to avenge last year's loss to Georgia, saying shortly afterward, "Wait until they get to our place."
She has no plans of only watching the meet, which marks the first time since 1991 that Georgia has competed in the regular season at Utah.
"I think I'll be fine after a few more days rest," she said. "If I missed this meet, it would put me over the edge. This is the one we've looked forward to all season."
Marsden and Georgia coach Suzanne Yoculan ended the series in 1991 after several disagreements and only revived it last year.
Georgia won the meet 197.275-197.150 last year, but the Utes complained they were underscored.
"I know she'll compete," teammate Ashley Postell said. "If we didn't have her, I think everyone would agree it would make a huge difference."
Facing Georgia without Ford would be disappointing for the Utes, but the prospect of losing her for the remainder of the season would make it hard for the Utes to stay in national title contention.
Unlike other sports, where coaches can adjust an offense or defense or craft a new strategy to lessen the absence of a key player, there is nothing you can do to replace a gymnast capable of scoring 9.95s if you don't have that kind of depth to start with, and Utah has none.
"With her out, it would be totally devastating," senior Kristen Riffanacht said. "She is a key player on this team, but I figured she'd be back. She's resilient."
Marsden knows that too, which is why he looked more relieved than anyone Monday afternoon.
"We can't replace her or Ashley or Nina [Kim]," he said. "We have some people who could step into the last half of the lineup, but they aren't capable of scoring what those gymnasts are, or they'd be in the lineup. Losing Natalie makes us even less deep, because now that was an option we no longer have."
If Ford can't go, Gabi Onodi will move into the bars and vault lineup, Kristina Baskett will compete on the beam, and Riffanacht, Jessica Duke or Onodi will take her place in the floor lineup.
No. 1 Georgia at No. 3 Utah
Monday, 7 p.m.
TV: KJZZ, CSTV