Carabajal looking to bring team along

Carabajal doesn’t want to be the lone Gophers gymnast at nationals next season.

Luke Middendorf

Finishing the season as the Gophers’ top female gymnast in the all-around, obtaining the team’s highest average score in all four events, gaining first-team All-Big Ten honors, earning a spot to the April 24 NCAA Championship and placing No. 1 in the all-around individual competition, Minnesota junior Carmelina Carabajal accomplished a lot during the 2008 season.

With many lessons to be learned on the road to a championship, Carabajal said the biggest thing that stuck with her is she does not want to be the only Gophers gymnast competing at next year’s championship.

“I realized that my team could definitely be there next year and we are going to work so hard to make that happen,” Carabajal said. “There is nothing more I want than to share that experience with my team. I know we will all be there next year because we are going to work as hard as we can until we accomplish that goal.”

With one season left with the Gophers, Carabajal said next year Minnesota will work more on the little things like form and technique and not worry about performing “the biggest tricks.”

“I think our team is going to work extra hard this summer to make every little thing perfect,” Carabajal said. “Then we are going to go into next season with more confidence and poise than we’ve ever had.”

The Albuquerque, N.M., native told her team after returning from the championship that they were greatly missed, but also gave them much of the credit for her success.

“They are why I work so hard everyday in the gym; they are my backbone,” Carabajal said. “It was so hard to compete without them. I also told them that it was the most exciting experience and I want so badly to make it as a team next year.”

Aside from her desire to improve her team, which she helped finish the 2008 season as the No. 16-ranked team in the nation, Carabajal said the NCAA Championship also helped her grow in her personal gymnastics.

“The best part of the meet was realizing I was competing with the best gymnasts in the country and I was holding my own,” she said. “I think I became more confident with myself and my abilities as a person and gymnast.”

Because Minnesota did not qualify as a team, Carabajal rotated with Florida’s squad at the national meet, which placed No. 1 in the session. Competing with one of the top teams in the country aided Carabajal in finishing as the top individual competitor from the Big Ten in her session.

“Before the first event, I was really nervous but once the girls from Florida started to cheer me on, I relaxed and from then on it felt like a normal meet,” Carabajal said. “It was so much fun to know that I was competing with the best in the country.”

Being the only Gophers gymnast at the NCAA championship, Carabajal was representing her team, college, state and conference, something co-head coach Meg Stephenson said she excelled at.

“We expected Carmelina to be a fabulous representative of not only Minnesota, but the Big Ten Conference, and she was all we hoped she would be,” Stephenson said.