Gymnasts eye chance to make NCAA meet

After starting the season ranked inside the top 10, the Minnesota women’s gymnastics team is hoping for a resurgence.
Fresh off a third-place finish at the Big Ten gymnastics meet last weekend, the 17th-ranked Gophers are aiming higher at the NCAA Region 2 Championships on April 1.
Minnesota won’t have to travel very far from its Peik Gymnasium practice facility for the championships — they’re being held at Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion.
Gophers coach Jim Stephenson says he hopes Minnesota builds on its solid performance at the Big Ten meet and puts together an even stronger meet this time around.
“It was our best meet of the year to date, but it wasn’t everything we can do” Stephenson said. “It was good and inspiring, but we still feel we haven’t peaked or gotten ourselves to the place where we can be.
“We’re hoping that will be this meet on April 1st.”
The Gophers will head into the regional meet led by their four all-Big Ten gymnasts — Judy Cavazos, Megan Beuckens, Leigh Dixon and MaryAnne Kelly.
With a strong nucleus, Stephenson said he thinks good things will happen for Minnesota.
But in order for the Gophers to advance to the NCAA championships in mid-April, they will need to finish in first or second place at the regionals.
That translates into a need for a top-notch performance against some tough teams like Utah, West Virginia and Denver.
Of the six teams at the regionals, the Gophers have the third-best qualifying score (195.400).
The Utes (196.705) and Mountaineers (195.710) lead the half-dozen teams at the meet.
Stephenson said a first-place finish is almost out of reach because of the strength of Utah.
“There are very few teams in the country that can beat Utah,” he said. “Within this regional meet, I think that would be classified as miraculous if someone beat Utah.”
So with Utah a clear favorite to place first, Minnesota will concentrate on grabbing that second-place finish.
And that’s something Stephenson said is quite possible.
“On the other hand, even though West Virginia is ranked above us, their average score for the year is only slightly different,” Stephenson said. “It’s just three-tenths higher.
“The rankings are really pretty meaningless. Between the rest of the teams, you’re going to have the greatest second-place race in the country.”
Placing second would advance Minnesota to the finals for the first time since 1997, when the Gophers finished 10th.
And they’re hoping this is their year to return to the finals.
“We have the potential, and we are being provided the opportunity,” Stephenson said. “It sounds easy on paper but it’s not.”

John R. Carter welcomes comments at [email protected]