Minnesota looks to continue success at regionals

Emily Wickstrom

Everything went right for Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team at the Big Ten Championships on March 25, and the Gophers were rewarded with the conference title.

Minnesota is hoping for more of the same Saturday when it competes at the NCAA North Central Regional Championships in Ames, Iowa, with a trip to the NCAA Championships at stake.

Iowa State, ranked fourth in the country, is the meet’s host and easily the favorite.

The rest of the field consists of all top-25 ranked teams: No. 11 Arizona State, No. 15 Arizona, No. 19 Denver, the No. 21 Gophers and No. 24 Brigham Young.

“We’ve got a good draw,” co-coach Meg Stephenson said. “Aside from Iowa State, the next five teams anybody can go, depending on how they do. Normally it’s pretty cut and dry who the top two teams are.”

The two top team scores will qualify for the NCAA Championships, which will be April 20-22.

Strictly based on standings, Minnesota is seen as the fifth-best team in the region, but senior Laura Johnson said she thinks the Gophers’ chances are better than they have been in any of her years on the team.

“Throughout our careers here, we’ve beaten all those teams except Arizona – we haven’t seen them,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen them all do gymnastics so we know what they’re doing.

One clear advantage Minnesota has over the rest of the field is familiarity. The Gophers are the only team that competed at Iowa State this season.

“We know what the equipment is like, we know what the set-up is going to be like,” Johnson said. “We don’t really have to adjust as much as the other teams.”

And, after winning the Big Ten title and dethroning No. 9 Michigan, Minnesota is coming into the meet with an extra swagger that will be hard for the other teams not to notice.

“It’s always huge to win a conference meet,” senior Maria Opsahl said. “We’ve gone against a lot of these teams recently when we hit, so I think they know we have something going on.”

Although most of the lineup is set, Stephenson said the coaching staff still has a few decisions to make.

Sophomore Andy Cornelius hasn’t competed since Feb. 17 due to injury, but is recovered and considered one of the Gophers’ best performers on the parallel bars.

Stephenson said it may not be determined until warm-ups on Friday if Cornelius will be inserted in the lineup.

On vault, Kelly Ganchan and Jade Beattie have been battling all season for the sixth spot, and Stephenson said they don’t usually decide until right before the meet who will compete.

“These are hard choices,” Stephenson said. “This is exactly where we want to be where we have choices of who to put in.”

“We haven’t had that in awhile,” she said.