Keyser to avoid sophomore jinx

by Susan Filkins

Gophers gymnast Cathy Keyser knows a lot about balance. Nearly everyday she gets up on the balance beam, which is only 4 inches wide, and manages to hold her center of gravity.
This year, Keyser is attempting to maintain a new balance with the transition from a talented freshman to an experienced sophomore. It is a change full of new roles to learn.
“This year, I know how to be more team-oriented,” Keyser said. “Even though I am still an underclassman, I am somewhat learning how to be a leader.”
Last year, Keyser, a native of Plymouth, was a highly touted freshman with international experience — having trained at the Australian Institute of Sport. Her father is originally from Australia and her family moved back there when she was three-years-old.
With all the hype surrounding her recruitment, Keyser pulled through, completing a stellar freshman year.
Last year, she recorded the highest score ever at Minnesota on a single event when she received a 9.925 in the balance beam at Utah. (The score has since been matched by junior Mindy Knaeble in the floor exercise). At the Big Ten championships, Keyser placed second on the beam and tied for third on the uneven bars with teammate Kristen Vandersall.
Attempting to match the success of Keyser’s freshman year would be difficult for any gymnast, especially after an injury struck in the pre-season.
Working out on the floor exercise last fall, Keyser hurt her lower back. The prognosis was the beginning of a herniated disk, the consequence was no floor exercise for the season.
“It was really upsetting because I felt a lot stronger on it this year, and I had upgraded my tumbling,” Keyser said. “Plus, I love to show off on floor with my dance.”
Even though she still has some continual pain in her lower back, Keyser said she looks forward to doing floor again in the near future.
“We are losing two seniors on floor next year, so I am going to work hard this summer and try to make that lineup,” she said.
The injury has made Keyser’s transition into her sophomore season a rough one. The pressure after last year mounted, and she has been forced to grow up real fast.
“Last year, I was the big kid in the gym,” Keyser said. “This year I was too serious because I came in expecting too much for myself. I wanted to have another year like last year, but factors came in, and I knew there was a possibility I couldn’t repeat.”
Facing those barriers, Keyser has fought hard and come through strong. She continues to bring in high scores in the uneven bars and the balance beam, which she calls her favorite event.
Gophers assistant coach Meg Stephenson said Keyser is one of the best gymnasts she has ever coached on beam.
“She’s got a really good balance of flexibility and strength,” Stephenson said. “If she is a little bit off, her ability to correct it in the air is really exceptional, and her ability to stay in her rhythm and focus while she is competing is equally as great.”
With such a small surface to work with, coordination and the ability to control the body are key. Keyser said losing poise on the beam is devastating, not only for the performer, but also the team.
“Usually, when that happens to me, I get up and I am so angry that the rest of my routine is good,” Keyser said. “You have to get up and finish the routine the best you can, because you never know when another teammate might fall.”
Keyser has only fallen off the beam once this season. Stephenson said Keyser has the presence of mind not to panic during her routine and to stay on the beam.
With only two regular meets left in the season, Keyser is gearing up for a repeat performance at the Big Ten championships at the Sports Pavilion. Keyser hopes the home advantage will help her win a title and make her transition complete.