Freshmen Mable, Nordquist make podium at NCAAs

The team finished in eighth place, the best result in Gophers history.

Minnesota's Lindsey Mable performs on the floor on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Jaak Jensen, Daily File Photo

Minnesota’s Lindsey Mable performs on the floor on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Nickalas Tabbert

Gophers gymnasts Lindsay Mable and Hanna Nordquist capped impressive freshman seasons with top-five finishes in the event finals at the NCAA championships Sunday in Los Angeles.

Mable tied for fourth place on floor exercise and tied for fifth place on vault. Nordquist tied for second place on balance beam. Both earned All-America honors.

“It was unbelievable. It was awesome,” Nordquist said of the competition.

Mable said she decided right away that she wanted the meet to be about having fun and to relieve herself of some of the pressure she felt during Friday’s team competition.

Afterward, she said she took the environment of the championships in.

“It was just really surreal and really cool,” said Mable, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

Mable said she had the most fun she’s had all season performing her floor routine Sunday after she looked into the crowd and saw hundreds of faces smiling back at her.

Both gymnasts said it was an honor to compete alongside some of the best gymnasts in the nation. But they realized they belonged in that group as well.

Mable said gymnasts from across the country supported and congratulated them afterward.

“We couldn’t have asked for better performances,” Gophers head coach Meg Stephenson said. “They were fantastic.”

Minnesota finished fourth out of six teams in its semifinal session Friday. It finished eighth out of 12 teams at the championships, its best finish in program history.

“We had a great meet,” Stephenson said Friday.

Minnesota scored 196.375 in its first NCAA championships appearance since 2002, but it fell short of making the finals by nearly a full point.

“We really felt like we did the job that we had hoped we would do when we came out here,” Stephenson said. “I don’t feel we felt short — I just think on this given day, [our opponents] scored higher than we did.”

Florida, Louisiana State and Georgia — three Southeastern Conference teams — finished ahead of Minnesota to advance to Saturday’s team finals. The Gators won the team title Saturday night.

Minnesota struggled on uneven bars, its worst event this season, to begin the meet. The Gophers scored 48.825 on bars, which was lower than the team has scored in recent weeks and lower than the three teams that advanced.

Mable hit her nose on one of the bars while performing her routine. It was bleeding when she finished.

She said her priority after the incident was to calm herself so she could move on.

“I couldn’t move on to the next event if I was still uptight and shaking,” she said. “Making any type of gymnastics happen when you feel that crazy is not healthy.”

Mable said she felt bad for her teammates when she fell and pushed herself to perform well on the three remaining events. She did so with scores of 9.85 on beam and 9.9 on both floor and vault.

Stephenson said she was impressed with how Mable responded.

“I just think that really speaks volumes to her toughness,” Stephenson said.

Nordquist scored a 9.9 on balance beam, her only event of the day. Minnesota moved into second place with a team score of 49.175 on beam.

The Gophers were strongest on floor with a score of 49.2. All six gymnasts scored 9.8 or higher.

But the three SEC schools that finished ahead of Minnesota also scored well, a trend that held true for three of the four events.

Minnesota ended the meet with five solid routines on vault and hit 23 of 24 routines overall.

Stephenson said Minnesota received congratulations on a successful season from many teams during the championships.

Stephenson was named National Coach of the Year, and her staff was named Assistant Coaches of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches for Women.

“I think the other coaches just noticed that our team was legit,” Stephenson said, “and we were consistent throughout the year. I think they appreciated that improvement.”

Stephenson was named Big Ten Coach of the Year and Regional Coach of the Year earlier this season.

Mable said the team earned the respect of many teams and fans throughout the season as it proved its hot start was no fluke.

“I think the more we were able to succeed as a team the more respect we got,” Mable said.

Minnesota will lose two seniors to graduation, but it will return with a core of young gymnasts led by Mable and Nordquist.

“This excitement and success doesn’t stop this year for any of us,” Mable said. “We plan to continue and make sure it happens again.”