Gophers gymnasts psyched up for NCAA regional meet

David La

Only one thing is certain for the No. 19 Gophers women’s gymnastics performing at the NCAA Regionals in Utah this Saturday: They’ll benefit from the big meet experience.
But securing the first- or second-place finish needed for advancement to the championships will require exceptional performances from the members of the young team, especially since they will be without the services of junior Judy Cavazos.
Cavazos dislocated a joint in her right foot last week and will not compete at the regionals.
“Judy is an incredibly strong competitor on three events and replacing her is difficult to do,” coach Meg Stephenson said.
While Cavazos might well be the team’s most heralded gymnast, the junior is also one of the most experienced. Her absence has indeed left a void, but her teammates are not about to concede defeat in Utah.
“The minute Judy was hurt there was a different aura in the gym,” Stephenson said. “People knew that some places were needed to be filled and they were ready to do it. It was very encouraging.”
Stephenson can also take comfort in knowing that her half-dozen freshman are not unknown quantities. All-Big Ten selection Catie Christensen has scored a 9.80 or higher in 11 of 12 meets this season. Fellow All-Big Ten honoree Megan Beuckens has been among the team’s most consistent on the balance beam and could see her first all-around competition this weekend.
If Beuckens does compete, she will give Minnesota its first gymnast to complement freshman MaryAnne Kelley in the all-around since early March. Kelley has been solid as the Gophers lone all-arounder and holds the top score of the season with a 39.025, set in the second meeting with Iowa.
Coupled with the contributions from the first-year gymnasts is senior Cathy Keyser, the 1998 Big Ten champion on the beam, and sophomore Shanyn Lancaster, who has the team’s highest average in the vault this season.
While the still-unproven Gophers might have more questions than answers going into the regionals, there is no doubting the strength of their adversaries.
At the risk of understatement, Region 2 is tough — maybe the toughest in the nation. No. 1 Georgia, the defending NCAA champion, is the obvious favorite, and with the other four teams ranked between 10th and 16th, the Gophers will go in as the lowest-ranked team in the field.
Minnesota has had success against two of the upcoming teams, however. The Gophers split meets against No. 16 Iowa State and defeated No. 13 Denver to close out the regular season.
Lack of big meet experience aside, Stephenson is resting her hopes on a team she believes is prepared.
“We feel confident that they will come through and do a good job, and that’s all we can ask of them,” Stephenson said. “They’re focused, they’re psyched and they’re together.”