Michigan humbles U in women’s gymnastics

Susan Filkins

It was close, but the No. 23-ranked Gophers women’s gymnastics team fell short Saturday at Ann Arbor, Mich., to defending Big Ten champion Michigan, 193.525 to 192.1.
The scores were almost identical heading in to the last rotation as the Gophers were on the balance beam and the Wolverines took to the floor exercise.
Michigan did not perform well on the floor. Their first three girls fell and had some major missed elements, resulting in low scores.
The Gophers were confident finishing on the beam, typically one of the team’s strongest events. But over on the floor, Michigan was doing the same.
“We were on balance beam thinking ‘Oh my gosh we can do this,'” Gophers coach Jim Stephenson said. “Unfortunately we were doing the same thing they were doing on floor, which is unfortunate for us because beam is such a good event for us.”
Michigan held on to their lead despite its inaccurate performance on the floor exercise. Despite the loss, the Gophers still lead the all-time series with Michigan at 18-14.
The Wolverines are considered to be the team to beat again this season after being ranked fifth in the nation by the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Pre-season Coaches Poll. Stephenson said Michigan is very tough to beat on its home floor and for his team to go there and be competitive was a great accomplishment.
“We thought for a minute that it was going to go our way,” Stephenson said. “It was really exciting and the audience was thrilled by it as well because they felt threatened. It was really kind of nice to go to their place and make them feel that way.”
The most exciting part of the day for the Gophers was when junior Mindy Knaeble broke the school record on the floor exercise for the second time this season with a 9.925.
Her previous record score of 9.90 was matched two weeks ago during the Best of Minnesota meet at the Sports Pavilion.
“She was thrilled by that,” Stephenson said. “She doesn’t talk about that kind of thing much, but I know for a fact that she enters every practice and every competition with that in mind. She still hasn’t done yet what we know she is able to do. She is one of those people on our team that is capable of scoring a perfect 10.”
The floor was the only event on which Minnesota collectively beat the Wolverines. All six Gophers scored above a 9.6.
Stand-out freshman Sarah Cain led Michigan while posting some of the highest scores in every event. She finished first in the all-around.
The Gophers continue to try working all of their skills into their routines. Junior Kim Sveum upgraded her floor routine and, after sitting out her entire freshman year recovering from two knee surgeries, sophomore Jenny Mazzone competed on the uneven bars for the first time as a collegiate athlete.
The uneven bars and the vault continue to give Minnesota some trouble, but Stephenson said both events were much improved Saturday.
“Certainly we are not near capacity yet, but as long as we feel we are climbing toward that, then we are pleased,” Stephenson said. “And that is in fact what is happening.
Minnesota will not face Michigan again until the Big Ten championships in March.
“It would have been great to beat Michigan, but to beat them on their floor, is something that very few teams in the country can do,” Stephenson added.