Women’s gymnasts need help to get to NCAAs

by Susan Filkins

Women’s gymnastics coach Jim Stephenson walked up to senior Kristen Vandersall while she stretched during Wednesday afternoon’s practice. He smiled at her with encouragement and said, “Come on Vanny, we still have two more weeks of practice.”
He was hypothetically speaking. The No. 21 Gophers will have two more weeks of training only if they qualify for the NCAA championships, on April 17-19 in Florida.
In order to qualify for nationals, though, the Gophers have to do well at the Central Regionals this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Minnesota’s first step was to qualify for the meet this weekend, which they did for the second consecutive year after scoring a school-record 196.350 at the Big Tens two weeks ago.
The Gophers were the sixth team to qualify. Other qualifying teams include Michigan, Alabama, LSU, Iowa State, Southeast Missouri, and Michigan State.
The winner of the Central Regional meet will automatically qualify for nationals. All other teams will have to rely on their score to qualify them. They will be pooled together with all teams from other regions.
Although Stephenson is optimistic his team will qualify for nationals, he doesn’t think they will win the Central Regional.
“We have virtually no chance of winning our region with Michigan, Alabama, and LSU in it who are traditionally top-ranked schools,” Stephenson said. “As much improved and as good as we are, those guys are in a league above us.”
After having said this, however, Stephenson said his team needs to score in the 195-196 range in order to qualify, which is a strong possibility.
The one thing standing in the Gophers’ way is the balance beam. The beam has hindered Minnesota all season and could continue to do so again this weekend.
The beam is a difficult event for all teams, but the Gophers have had numerous problems struggling for consistency in hitting routines all season.
At the Big Tens two weeks ago, Minnesota looked as if it had found a solution to its problems in the beam and had established a confident lineup.
The Gopher’s solution may be short-lived.
A member of the new beam lineup was recently named academically ineligible and will not compete this weekend.
Freshman Kristi Selinger, another member of the beam team, is also questionable after suffering a major contusion to her right shoulder. Selinger’s injury occurred in her dorm room where she fell out of her top bunk Saturday night.
“The phone rang and it sits in between the beds,” Selinger said. “I reached back to get it and my mattress slipped and fell on my head.”
Stephenson said Selinger should be ready to compete this weekend, but for now, the holes in the lineup are extremely disturbing.
“Beam is the only question for us,” Stephenson said. “We had a solution to that, but things have gone wrong outside the gym.”
With the beam being the lone problem for the Gophers, they are counting on the other events to keep them in contention. Minnesota has improved with every meet and is on track to break another school record team score this weekend.
“We need to do really well, and we need to count on some other teams self-destructing,” Stephenson said. “We’ve already planned our training schedule for the next two weeks. We are not just hopeful, we feel we have a good chance.”