U tops two Big Ten foes in weekend meet

by Susan Filkins

A number of times this season the No. 15 Gophers women’s gymnastics team has found itself in a close meet, at home, entering the final rotation. Time after time, there have been few worries since Minnesota’s final event, the floor exercise, is an event where they can do no wrong.
Saturday night, in a tri-dual meet with No. 21 Ohio State and No. 36 Illinois at the Sports Pavilion, the Gophers pulled out a victory over both Big Ten schools scoring 194.5, their second-highest team score all season. The Buckeyes were second (192.225) followed by the Illini (188.775).
Heading into the floor exercise, the Gophers (9-4) found themselves in a tie with Ohio State (8-4).
“It is hard to imagine doing any better when your first person goes up there and scores a 9.8,” Gophers coach Jim Stephenson said. “On the other hand, a 10 is the potential and I think it can still happen.”
Minnesota took all three of the top finishes in that event, tying its second-highest team score of all-time, 49.225.
Junior Mindy Knaeble won the event for the seventh time this season with a 9.9. Following her was senior co-captain Jonda Hammons, who tied her personal-best with a 9.875. Finishing third with a 9.85 was senior co-captain Kristen Vandersall.
Stephenson said he feels he has four gymnasts who are capable of scoring a perfect 10 on the floor, but with scores consistently in the 9.8-9.9 range, there isn’t much more the Gophers can do to improve.
“I think the only thing we can improve is presence,” Hammons said. “Everyone is very confident out there and has done a very good job. There really isn’t any more to do.”
One improvement the Gophers can make is on the balance beam. Minnesota usually misses routines in the event but the Gophers only counted one miss on Saturday.
“Just thinking you have been on that same beam countless numbers of times before — even that little bit of confidence helps you do your routine,” sophomore Cathy Keyser said. “As long as you can get up there with confidence, your odds for hitting are way better.”
Keyser must have felt confident as she took first place with a 9.875. Gophers freshman Judith Cavazos finished in a three-way-tie for second with Ohio State’s Elizabeth Jensen and Illinois’ Kim Berres. All scored a 9.8.
Cavazos also won the all-around competition, recording her second-best score this season, a 39.125. Part of her all-around score included tying her personal-best on the uneven bars, 9.85, which was good enough for first place. Vandersall took second, scoring 9.825.
With only two meets left in the regular season before the Big Ten championships, the Gophers have now faced Ohio State and Michigan, the top two Big Ten schools. This weekend, Minnesota proved it can beat a top team in the conference.
“Even though we don’t watch them during meets or warm-ups, at least we have some sort of idea what they are going to score,” Keyser said. “I think it boosts our confidence going into Big Tens because we’ve shown we can beat them.”