Competition should be stiff at Big Tens

Five Big Ten teams are ranked in the top 25 heading into the weekend.

With five of its programs ranked in the top 25 nationally, according to the GymnInfo rankings, Minnesota women’s gymnastics co-head coach Meg Stephenson said Saturday’s Big Ten Championship will actually be thought of as the “Big Ten National Championship.”

The Gophers have hovered around the No. 25 ranking all season – averaging a 194.885 per meet – and that is what they rank entering this weekend’s conference finale.

Michigan, who is the host of this year’s Big Ten Tournament, will be the heavy favorite because of having the meet at home and because of its No. 4 national ranking, Stephenson said.

With Michigan State following the Wolverines by ranking No. 17 nationally, Iowa No. 22, Penn State No. 23, the Gophers No. 25 and Illinois No. 26, Saturday’s tournament looks to be very competitive but also anyone’s meet to win, according to Stephenson.

“It’s so exciting because the team that has the best night is the one that’s going to walk away with the victory,” Stephenson said. “We have a lot of respect for the Big Ten conference and it’s going to be a great meet.”

Although the Big Ten Championship will be counted as a regular season meet for rankings going into the NCAA tournament, the format of the meet is quite different than any prior meet this year.

Instead of each gymnast being introduced and performing one at a time, the Big Ten Championship features multiple gymnasts competing at once, which Gophers sophomore Alexis Russell said is an exciting experience with less personal pressure.

“Normally when someone announces you, you feel rushed to go,” Russell said about previous regular season meets. “This time we get to go at our own pace and the judge waits until we are ready.”

Minnesota might have felt the least pressure on the bars and beam events this season, ranking No. 17 and No. 19 in the nation, respectively, coming into the Big Ten Championship.

But Stephenson said the Gophers will need to perform their very best on all four events this weekend to come out on top of the highly competitive Big Ten conference.

“We are not going to be able to go in there and have any mistakes or setbacks and expect to win,” Stephenson said. “We don’t count on adrenaline and we don’t count on environment. We count on ourselves and what we know how to do, regardless of where we are or what kind of competition it is.”