Superstitions pay off for U gymnast

David La

Facing a comeback situation against an Iowa State team poised for an upset, Gophers freshman gymnast MaryAnne Kelley turned in a first-place tying score in the floor exercise, helping No. 7 Minnesota to a win over the No. 12 Cyclones.
Watching from his usual mat-side seat was Eldin, the tattered stuffed dog that Kelley has brought to every meet since she was in seventh grade.
“I have to have Eldin with me,” Kelley said. “I always swore I would never compete if I didn’t have him there.”
Kelley’s superstitious streak — she’s also worn the same rubber bands in her hair for every meet this season — was inherited from her mother, Diane, who was a member of the 1968 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.
“She wears a wooden cross necklace,” MaryAnne said. “So she can always knock on it.”
The good-luck charms haven’t let down Kelley yet. At William Frend High School in Illinois, she was an integral part of a team that won the Illinois state championship in each of her four years. As a senior, Kelley was recognized as the AAI Outstanding Senior Gymnast for Illinois and the Chicago Tribune’s High School Athlete of the Year.
Kelley was recruited heavily by Big Ten schools such as Illinois and Penn State, as well as highly ranked Alabama and Iowa State, but chose Minnesota because “it just felt right.”
Gophers co-coach Jim Stephenson shrugged off Kelley’s reliance on superstition, but her decision to join the team must have had Stephenson counting his lucky stars.
“MaryAnne is certainly one of the most important ingredients in what could be a very successful season for us,” Stephenson said.
Halfway through her freshman season at Minnesota, Kelley has shown flashes of being a pivotal performer in Gophers gymnastics for the remainder of her career.
The Gophers have already gone up against some of the country’s best gymnastics programs, facing No. 5 Michigan, No. 2 Utah and No. 1 Alabama in the first three weeks of the season. Kelley has held her own against the powerhouses, taking second in the all-around against Michigan, and third in the all-around against Utah and Alabama.
While she closed out her high school career with two big awards, early-season meets against the big three of Michigan, Utah and Alabama would have gone a little differently if Kelley had her say.
“It would have been nice to see one of them later in the season,” Kelley said. “It would have allowed us to see how we were doing.”
Minnesota hosts Iowa at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday at 7 p.m., then hits the road for four consecutive meets before returning in mid-March. Barring injuries or letdowns, Kelley and the Gophers could return with four more team victories.
Knock on wood.