Stanton balances roles to perfection in second season

Emily Wickstrom

Sophomore Ashley Stanton is by no means the star of Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team.

That title without a doubt belongs to senior Laura Johnson, who recently was crowned Big Ten Gymnast of the Year and has excelled for four seasons.

But Stanton, who competes on balance beam and floor exercise, has established herself with consistency in a role that co-coach Jim Stephenson calls “a security blanket” for the rest of the team.

“It’s not a big blanket because we have 24 routines,” Stephenson said. “But for the two that she does, there is a real sense of security with Ashley and a confidence that goes with that.”

Stanton always has shined on balance beam, anchoring the event and depended on to be among the Gophers top scorers.

She finished first on the team in the event in five meets and tied for or finished alone in second in four other meets – each time finishing behind Johnson.

Her biggest accomplishment to date came last weekend when she finished in second place on balance beam at the Big Ten Championships with a score of 9.850 and was also the Gophers top performer on floor exercise.

“I wanted to do really good in both my events,” Stanton said. “But deep down I was hoping for a medal.

“It was even more exciting because beam was the first event for us and my score held throughout the whole meet.”

Stephenson said Stanton’s style on beam clearly stood out among the other gymnasts as one of the best in the conference.

“By watching the event (at the conference) you identified the people on balance beam that have a gift to perform there,” Stephenson said. “(Stanton) was certainly one of those.”

But more important than her showmanship, Stanton’s teammates know she is going to hit her routines.

“There’s always confidence when she goes because she’s just one of those that you know she’s going to hit,” junior Kelly Ganchan said. “I’m pretty sure she’s made every floor set this year.”

The fact that such a valuable gymnast only competes on two events may remind some familiar with the Minnesota program of Carolyn Yernberg, who graduated last season.

Yernberg excelled on vault and floor exercise and was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, something Stanton said she has thought about.

“In the back of my head, I’m like, ‘Carolyn was an all-star and she did two events,'” Stanton said. “So I’m OK.”

As Minnesota approaches the NCAA North Central Region Championships on April 8, it is certain Stanton’s consistency will be counted on for the Gophers to make a push and qualify for the NCAA Championships.

“I think this year more than ever Ö we have the best chance of going (to the championships),” Stanton said. “Especially after winning Big Tens, we have this huge boost of confidence. We can be cocky more than we have been because we’re Big Ten champions now.”

But Stanton said she has some individual goals as well, for regionals as well as next season.

“The second-place medal (from Big Tens) is great, but I’d rather have a gold,” Stanton said. “Even at regionals I’d love to place top two on beam.”