Fate of U women lies in the floor exercise

by Susan Filkins

Undoubtedly the most exciting event to watch in women’s gymnastics is the floor exercise. The combination of individual music and artistic expression on the floor provides unmatched entertainment.
The Gophers women’s gymnastics team has always excelled in the floor exercise, and this season they are proving to be better than ever.
After only three meets, No. 16 Minnesota has recorded three of its six best scores ever on floor exercise. In the Best of Minnesota meet three weeks ago, the Gophers finished on floor with a 49.2000, their second highest score ever. Their record score in the event occurred last March in a meet against Utah where they scored a 49.275. The Gophers, ranked third in the nation on the event, are confident they can break their record on the floor this season.
Individual records have also been broken. Junior Mindy Knaeble broke her old school record of 9.9 against Michigan two weeks ago, scoring a 9.925. Knaeble is currently the third-ranked individual on the floor exercise in the nation. She has won the event in all three of Minnesota’s meets this season.
Senior Jonda Hammons tied her career-high in the Best of Minnesota meet. Senior Kristen Vandersall tied her personal best last weekend in a win over Arizona, and freshman Judith Cavazos set a personal record in the same meet.
One thing is for sure, when the Gophers are on the floor, people take notice. Most of the credit for their success is found in the coaching staff.
Coach Jim Stephenson, along with assistant coaches Meg Stephenson and Trina Tinti, all brought a strong background with them when they came to Minnesota four years ago.
“It is the one event where all three coaches in the gym affect what is going on,” Stephenson said. “I coach tumbling primarily; Trina does the majority of the choreography, and Meg constructs and cuts all the music.”
Tinti, a former stand-out gymnast from UCLA, has an extensive background in choreography. She has choreographed balance beam and floor exercise routines for various levels and clubs throughout the country. Her presence with the Gophers has strongly influenced the success of the event for Minnesota.
“Trina is an excellent choreographer, keying on detail, and is pretty precise in what she tells you to do,” Hammons said.
Tinti said her experience with Minnesota has had a very positive effect on the senior class of this year’s team, because it is the first class she has coached for four years.
“The consistency and getting to know them has made a huge difference,” Tinti said. “You get to know their strengths and weaknesses and also their personality. You can gel together and take advantage of what they are best at.”
Several things go into a successful floor exercise routine. In NCAA gymnastics, a routine must have two tumbling passes, with one pass having two flips. Three dance elements in a row is another requirement called a “gym series.” A gym series and a dance combination are also necessary. Tinti said it is critical that the dance coordinates with the music, which she said must fit the gymnast’s personality.
The Gophers have been able to rely on their floor exercise to pull them out of any trouble spots during competition. It is the one event Minnesota dominates and should control in every meet this season. It is also the event in which they have the most depth.
“We put six people up there that have the potential to score a 9.8 or better,” Vandersall said. “It makes you realize that everybody in the off-season has really put their mind to it that they are going to excel in this event that we have already been good at, but now are great at.”
Minnesota (4-1) travels to Logan, Utah to face No. 11 Utah State tonight.