Yernberg vaults over all expectations

Given the chance to compete, Carolyn Yernberg soon found out she belonged.

It was a perfect 10 that made Carolyn Yernberg a fixture on Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team. The rest of her beginnings in Minneapolis were much more modest.

A Blaine, Minn., native, Yernberg knew she wanted to go to school at Minnesota, but she said she was unsure if she was good enough to compete for the Gophers.

“In my right mind, I did not think that they would take me,” Yernberg said.

Coming from a smaller gym with little experience in producing Division I gymnasts left Yernberg unprepared for the recruiting process, she said.

“I had no idea about the college programs and how you got in,” Yernberg said.

She didn’t contact Minnesota co-coaches Jim Stephenson and Meg Stephenson until late her senior year of high school, when all their scholarships were already taken.

But the Minnesota coaches said they saw unlimited potential in Yernberg in the vault and floor exercise, and they invited her to walk on their team.

Neither party knew exactly what to expect.

“She kind of had an attitude where she wanted to see if she liked it, and if she did she would stay,” Meg Stephenson said. “We kind of shared that attitude with her to see if it was something that was going to click.”

Immediately after Yernberg joined the team, it became clear to all that she belonged.

“I don’t think either of us looked back after the first practice,” Meg Stephenson said. “It was the right thing for sure.”

It wasn’t long before Yernberg made her mark.

In March 2002, Yernberg earned the first perfect 10 in school history while competing on the vault at a meet at UCLA.

Yernberg said she was amazed to receive a perfect score; she’s not sure if it was her best performance at Minnesota.

“The thing is, in the past three years, I’ve done way better vaults than that one,” she said, explaining that scoring is different at every meet and with every judge.

Now the only senior on the Gophers team, Yernberg has moved from an unconfident walk-on to one of Minnesota’s most-decorated gymnasts.

At this season’s opening meet versus Arkansas, Yernberg scored a 9.975 on the floor exercise to give her a share of the school record in the event to accompany her perfect 10 in the vault. She has also been named second team All-Big Ten the last two seasons.

“The whole team has incredible respect for Carolyn,” junior teammate Maria Opsahl said. “We all look up to her and admire her for her strengths.”

But the full effect of her achievements hasn’t yet sunk in with Yernberg.

Even as a senior and a leader, Yernberg said she was just honored to have the opportunity and never expected things to turn out as they have.

And in just a few months, her coaches will be lamenting the loss of a walk-on.

“You hate to lose the kids that are doing everything right,” Meg Stephenson said. “You just hope that in her last year here, the other kids on the team will observe and listen to her and learn from her before we lose her.”