Gymnast’s sister passes on U, signs with Wolverines

Susan Filkins

It came down to Michigan and Minnesota. Both teams are of national quality and contention. Both have strong programs and coaches and both are forces in the Big Ten.
But only one could be chosen.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, Bridget Knaeble, one of the most talented female gymnasts to come out of Minnesota, chose to be a Wolverine when, in November, she signed with Michigan.
After five recruiting trips and months of listing pros and cons, Knaeble, Minnesota’s top women’s gymnastics recruit, signed with Michigan. Her decision disappointed friends, parents and siblings, including current Gophers gymnast — and sister — Mindy Knaeble.
“I was really mad,” Mindy said. “I didn’t know what to say. I was kind of hurt.”
Four years ago, Gophers coach Jim Stephenson began to recruit Bridget. He said he made a home visit with her and her family the first hour of the first day it was legal to do so.
“We were certainly on top of the situation and had been in correspondence with her probably as frequent a basis as we have been with any recruit we ever worked with,” Stephenson said.
With everybody wanting Bridget to stay in Minnesota, the pressure and stress surrounding the situation was incredible, says the Knaeble girls’ mother, Nancy.
“It is a hard decision for a 17-year-old to make,” she said. “We didn’t want to put any pressure on her, even though deep in our hearts we know where we really wanted to see her. But it was still her decision to make.”
After visiting Michigan, Bridget’s mother was aware Bridget liked her future teammates and the campus. Bridget didn’t have any negative comments to make.
“I just felt that it was the best fit for me,” Bridget said. “I really liked Michigan, and I thought it had a lot to offer me both academically and with gymnastics.”
Stephenson admitted he had anticipated Bridget’s decision but was still left disappointed.
“I think it left us pretty mystified,” Stephenson said. “We thought we had this whole thing laid out, offering a beautiful plate of wonderful things for her to relate to and buy into.”
Sister Mindy is a junior on this year’s Gophers team. She has experienced much success in her first two years at Minnesota, including winning a share of the Big Ten championship on floor exercise last spring. She and Bridget have trained and grown up participating in gymnastics together.
Mindy believes part of Bridget’s decision has to do with Wolverine’s assistant coach, Scott Sherman, a Knaeble family friend, who recently took a job at Michigan.
“He is really good friends with our family,” Mindy said. “I think she really trusts him and looks up to him because he has taught her so much, and she feels comfortable with him. I guess she just wanted to stay with him.”
Stephenson said Bridget never told anyone Sherman was the reason for her decision, but he presumes it tipped the scales toward Michigan.
However, Bridget’s mother doesn’t think the decision weighed too heavily on Sherman.
“I feel more that she needed to fit in well with the team and that the level of gymnastics was what she was looking for,” she said.
Another question was whether a sibling rivalry was a factor in the decision process. Neither Mindy nor Bridget seemed to think so.
“It made me want to go to the U even more,” Bridget said. “It would be fun to be on the same team as her. She was working me over to go there, so that made it a harder decision.”
Bridget admits going to the meets with her parents this year has made her think twice, but she is really excited for next year.
Another decision will arise next year when Michigan comes to Minnesota for a meet early in the season. Which team will the Knaeble’s cheer for?
“I (kidded) to Bridget that I should have a Minnesota sweatshirt and a Michigan sweatshirt split right down the middle and wear half of one and half of the other,” Nancy said. “Next year will be a very difficult year with the girls competing against each other.”
The girls’ father is less accepting of the situation. He told Mindy he will never wear blue and gold. Although this upsets Bridget, she thinks it will just take time.
“I will miss it here, but it will be a good opportunity for me,” Bridget said.
Losing Bridget to Michigan was a great loss for the Gophers, but Stephenson said Minnesota did sign its other top recruit Megan Skokut from Indianapolis, Ind.
The Gophers will travel to their biggest rival’s home gym at Michigan this weekend to face the Wolverines. Bridget Knaeble’s decision to sign with them just adds to the drama.
“I would love for Bridget to go there and be the best that she has ever been, but we want to beat Michigan real bad,” Stephenson said. “We would like them to be the best looking second place team we have ever seen.”