Women find unity in summer training, men open dual slate

Matt Perkins

The offseason for gymnasts is much like that for any committed athlete: filled with hard work, long hours and physical and mental struggles.

Many athletes choose to do this training at a gym in their hometown or with an old coach with whom they enjoy working.

But all 12 returning members of Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team stayed in Minneapolis this summer to work out together ” as a team.

Not that it’s all work all the time.

“When we say we’re all best friends, we mean it,” senior Laura Johnson said. “We train together and have fun together because we all have the same goal: a national championship.”

Johnson qualified for the national championships as an individual last season, finishing 16th in her session, and said she doesn’t see why she can’t get back there.

But she said this time she is bringing her team along.

Gophers co-coaches Meg and Jim Stephenson said the perfect attendance at voluntary practices shows that the Gophers are on their way to revisiting the national championships as they did in 2002 when they finished ninth in the nation.

“Some people can go home and have great training experiences,” Meg Stephenson said. “But it does something for comradery and chemistry when they decide to work together here.”

Meg Stephenson also said the team’s dedication shows their commitment to Minnesota but that it’s more about commitment to one another.

The dedication paid off in the Gophers’ first meet of the season Saturday, as they bested then-No. 21 Denver 192.900-192.350, and have since taken that spot.

“The thing about that is that all of last season I think we were at best ranked 21st,” sophomore Ashley Mutchler said. “Now we are already to that point, and we want to just get better and better.”

Said Jim Stephenson: “We try to show people how we look at our best. I was very pleased with what I saw against Denver. But there is always room for improvement. We’re going to try to keep creeping up on everyone.”

Again, he said it was the Gophers’ commitment to voluntary practices that is going to help them creep faster and faster each week.

Johnson said even the freshmen have adopted the same attitude and attended all the voluntary practices.

“They have a very good understanding of what we expect from them,” Johnson said. “And they are all on board.”

Though the physical demands of voluntary practice can take its toll, Meg Stephenson said the Gophers’ dedication will serve well come championship season.

“You don’t see that kind of commitment very often, not at this level,” Meg Stephenson said. “This is a team now that truly pushes each other. This is a team that can make nationals.”

Men’s team to Illinois

Minnesota’s 8th-ranked men’s gymnastics team competes at Illinois on Saturday. That will mark the beginning of the Gopher’s dual season. The team opened its season taking fifth at this past weekend’s Windy City Invitational.