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Sophomore Jaedyn Rucker has roared back from a knee injury, giving Utah gymnastics team another weapon

She’s racked up a 9.825 or higher in her last six routines and is increasingly player a bigger role for Red Rocks

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jaedyn Rucker competes on the floor for Utah in the Best of Utah gymnastics meet at the Maverik Center on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021.

After being sidelined for two years with a knee injury, Utah sophomore gymnast Jaedyn Rucker was determined not to waste any opportunities to compete in 2021.

So far she is making good on her promise.

Rucker has scored 9.825 or higher in her six routines for the Utes and has three 9.875s. Her spots in the vault and floor lineups not only are solid, Utah coach Tom Farden believes Rucker will get more chances in other events based on her efforts thus far.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the way she has roared back,” Farden said. “She has been diligent in her training and it’s fun to see where it’s taking her.”

Rucker first caught Farden’s eye when she was a club gymnast at Desert Devils Gymnastics in Arizona. Rucker’s father, Robert, was an All-American track standout at Arizona State and Jaedyn showed she had a lot of her father’s powerful athleticism. She was the 2018 Junior Olympic national vault champion and also placed second in the all-around and floor at the same event.

“You could see that she was a star on the rise,” Farden said. “She was a dynamo, explosive.”

NO. 4 UTAH VS. WASHINGTON

At the Huntsman Center

When • Saturday, 8 p.m.

TV • ESPNU

That explosiveness was put on hold in January 2019 when she hurt her knee. Two surgeries and a pandemic delay later, Rucker is finally getting a chance to show off her talents.

“I’m almost 100 percent,” Rucker said. “I wear a knee brace but it’s more of a mental thing with me. I’m excited for this year because I’ve been waiting two years.”

Even though she wasn’t competing last year, being part of the team had its value, Rucker said.

“Coming from a club gym, you are more worried about yourself,” she said. “I was able to watch how the team does gymnastics for the team instead of yourself. I think it’s cool that your energy comes from teammates now. It’s a different type of feeling.”

Farden has been impressed that Rucker doesn’t seem to lack the competitive edge after being sidelined for so long, especially since she doesn’t have a lot of hard landings in her last year given the knee injury and the pandemic delays.

“She’s really a freshman in terms of competing,” he said. “She is still finding her footing but now that she is a few meets under her belt you can see her talent.”