Senior gymnasts save best for last

by Susan Filkins

When senior co-captain Jonda Hammons stepped to the middle of the floor Friday night to be honored before her last regular season meet in the Sports Pavilion, she was met with a huge surprise.
Hammons’ mother Linda Hammons decided to fly up from Lodi, Calif., to see her daughter compete in her last regular meet of the season as a Gopher.
“I had no clue she was coming and when he started announcing Linda Hammons I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh gosh, he made a mistake she’s not here,'” Hammons said. “Then I looked up and there she was. It was amazing.”
Linda Hammons met her daughter in the middle of the floor with tear-filled eyes and embraced her with open arms.
“We had visited a month ago and I thought that was our visit for the season, but I got home and thought about it and decided that this was one of those special moments I really wanted to share with her,” Linda Hammons said. “I am very proud of Jonda, and I wanted to be here to let her know it.”
Jonda Hammons and the No. 20 Gophers did not disappoint their West coast guest. They defeated No. 14 Iowa State for the second time this season 194.850 to 194.725.
The other senior co-captain Kristen Vandersall was also honored before the meet. Kristen’s parents Bruce and Diane Vandersall were in attendance. In fact over the past two years, the Vandersall’s have not missed a meet, and over four years have only missed four meets total.
“I enjoy the sport like there’s no tomorrow, but I know my parents enjoy it like nothing else,” Kristen Vandersall said. “They just think they have 14 daughters right now. They have embraced this sport like their own, and so it was nice to recognize them and give them acknowledgment.”
Vandersall did not let down her parents. When she finished her final floor exercise routine she was rewarded with a 9.95, the highest score ever recorded on an individual event at Minnesota.
She will not hold the record alone though, her teammate freshman Judith Cavazos also scored a 9.95 in the floor exercise. This distinction is something for which the Gophers have been waiting a long time.
“We were really hoping this year someone would score a 10.0 on some event, and it was real tantalizing for us and the audience to see our team approaching this and push the edge,” Gopher’s coach Jim Stephenson said.
Minnesota did not exactly sail smoothly through the meet, though.
Minnesota’s major weakness is in the balance beam where it has had a difficult time maintaining composure and confidence.
Gopher’s assistant coach Meg Stephenson has been juggling the line-up during the second half of the season to find the right combination for success. With three Gophers falling off the beam Friday, she will need to keeping searching.
“I think the team themselves is sick of it, and I think if this isn’t going to turn them around nothing will,” Meg Stephenson said.
Jim Stephenson agreed and said the team needs to make a mental adjustment.
“You would think that being careful would be helpful, but it’s detrimental,” he said. “Speed and aggressiveness actually helps you up there, and I think that a couple of them are angry enough now that they are going to change their approach.”
Minnesota finished the season 13-4 overall and 4-1 in the Big Ten. They now have one week to prepare for the Big Ten championships next weekend at the Sports Pavilion.