Kailah Delaney is accustomed to competitions and being in the spotlight as someone who has been in the sport of gymnastics since the age of 4.
But being on a big stage after more than a year’s break from the sport? It hasn’t happened before to Delaney, which makes Saturday’s season opener against SUU, Boise State and BYU a new experience for the Utah junior.
No one, including Delaney, knows what to expect.
“It’s been so long, I am nervous,” said Delaney, who missed the 2013 season while recovering from knee surgery. “I’ve always struggled with the mental part of gymnastics, but I have been working hard on it with a sport psychologist, so hopefully I have the tools to deal with the pressure.”
Delaney, a junior from Yorba Linda, Calif., is glad to have a chance to compete again after last year.
What started as a simple knee injury turned into months of frustration and pain that threatened to end her gymnastics career. As a last resort, Delaney underwent a surgery last September in which surgeons repaired her patella tendon and also shaved away some of the bones in her knee joint that were catching and causing her pain.
Surgeons weren’t sure if the procedure would alleviate the pain, much less let Delaney return to her old form. Happily, all have been pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
“It definitely was the right thing to do,” Delaney said. “It gets sore when I do a lot of pounding on long training days, but if I back off a little bit, it never bothers me. It is handling everything really well.”
Delaney has recovered so well that she could contend for a spot in the all-around.
That is saying a lot about her abilities since the Utes are so loaded this season that earning spots on any event will be tough, much less in all four.
“Floor and vault are the only things we still have to modify for her some, but she is handling things really well,” co-coach Megan Marsden said. “If she can keep her confidence up, the sky is the limit for her because she has incredible talent.”
Delaney, who has hit 16 of 16 routines in her college career, still feels vault is her strongest event even though it puts the most demand on her knee. The uneven bars remain a mental challenge for her, although in an odd way the time away from competition might have helped her.
Since most of the bar work is non-weight bearing, practicing her uneven bar skills was one of the few things Delaney could do while she was recovering from the surgery. All that extra time has helped her, she believes.
“It has been so long since I competed, I have more determination than ever,” she said. “I knew it was going to be tough to miss meets, but for me it was up an even higher level. The season felt so long.”
Adding to the misery were Utah’s struggles. The Utes didn’t have the depth last year they do now, which magnified Delaney’s absence.
She traveled with the team to meets, which helped her stay involved, but she also felt helpless because she couldn’t contribute in the competitions.
“Georgia [Dabritz] and Kassandra [Lopez] were my roommates, and they helped me a lot,” she said. “There were a lot of days after meets I would break down and get emotional and those two were there for me, helping me through it.”
Delaney hopes she can return the favor this year by being there for her teammates on the competition floor.
O Year • Junior
Height • 5-foot-6
Hometown • Yorba Linda, Calif.
Of note • Missed the 2013 season while recovering from knee surgery. ... NCAA first-team All-American on the vault as a freshman. ... Won Pac-12 Special Performance of the Week against Florida as a freshman. ... Has hit 16 of 16 routines with five victories as a Ute.
O Saturday, 7 p.m.