With nationals approaching, women head to West Virginia

by Luke Middendorf

With only two meets left until the Big Ten Championships, the Minnesota women’s gymnastics squad gets some early preparation when it travels to West Virginia for a four-team meet on Saturday.

While the Gophers have one more home meet to get ready for postseason play, senior night against Oklahoma, the combination of Saturday being an away meet and facing three other teams should provide a similar atmosphere to that of a Big Ten, Regional or NCAA championship.

Postseason competition forces gymnasts to compete one after another instead of alternating performances with the other team, Minnesota’s co-head coach Meg Stephenson said, which will also be the format of Saturday’s quad-meet.

Coming into the meet as the highest ranked team at No. 24 in the national poll, ahead of No. 29 West Virginia, No. 38 New Hampshire and No. 57 Rutgers, Stephenson said it should not be a distraction because the Gophers have become good at “living in the bubble.”

“As long as we are focusing on what we can do as a team, which is hitting 24-of-24 routines, we will do great,” Stephenson said. “It’s our goal every meet to go out and do that.”

With the postseason nearing, having a full roster able to compete is one of the main goals for the Gophers, Stephenson said.

But having a full roster also allows for the gymnasts to focus on the more intricate parts of their routines, which the Gophers’ coach said for the next two weeks are execution and sticking dismounts at the end of each routine.

Although many students at the University – like the women’s gymnasts – will be traveling this weekend to kick off spring break, Stephenson said the Gophers will not stay in West Virginia for the break and will instead return back early on Sunday to start two-a-day practices in preparation for next week’s senior night meet.

“We are really gearing up for the championship season,” Stephenson said.

Men travel to Oklahoma

Like the women’s team, the Minnesota men’s gymnastics squad also starts spring break by traveling for a Saturday away meet.

Although the Gophers will be traveling south to Oklahoma, their trip will be “all business,” head coach Mike Burns said.

This weekend’s meet with Oklahoma is Minnesota’s first in two weeks, a break which head coach Mike Burns said was an opportunity to focus on a pressing area of concern, dismount landings.

When finding out from the Sooners’ coach that Oklahoma is also on spring break starting this weekend, possibly causing a low turnout, Burns said he found an alternative for fan support.

“That’s great. I appreciate the news,” Burns said in response to Oklahoma’s coach. “We are just going to create our own energy in your gym.”

No. 8-ranked Minnesota should have their hands full against the Sooners, who are currently ranked No. 3 in the nation.

Burns said he presented a challenge to his team this week in preparation for Saturday’s meet, telling them, “If there is anybody in this gym that doesn’t think we can handle these guys, leave now,” Burns said. “Because any given day, anything can happen.”