Final home meet comes for six seniors

by Michael Dougherty

Paul Anka crooned in the song “My Way,” “And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain.”
Perhaps it’s a bit dramatic, but it certainly has a ring to it that describes the emotions of six seniors on the Gophers women’s gymnastics team, as they prepare for Friday’s Senior Night.
“It’s going to be a sad day,” senior Kim Sveum said, “not just for me, but there are five other seniors, and that makes up a big part of our team.”
Those other five include reigning Big Ten balance beam champ Mindy Knaeble, Molly Umland, Mindy Myhre, Lacey Purkat and Stacey Batza, as they join Sveum in their last home competition. The 18th-ranked Gophers face No. 13 Iowa State at the Sports Pavilion.
“It’s going to be hard, but it kind of makes it a little bit exciting knowing it’s the last time we get to go out and perform in front of the home crowd,” Sveum said.
And that crowd is what Sveum said she will miss the most.
“I think it’s kind of like the Minnesota Nice thing, I guess,” she said. “Every one of the fans seems to love us and I think that helps when you have people come up to you and tell you how wonderful it is to watch you compete.”
The emotions Sveum said she feels about senior night are not entirely gloomy, however, as she is excited about life beyond gymnastics.
“While I’m sad to see gymnastics go, I’m really looking forward to the future,” she said. “Just because it’s something new and I get to start off at the bottom rung and make my way back up again.”
Co-head coach Jim Stephenson said he thinks that Sveum has learned the proper ways to make her way to the top from her time here at the University.
“She has become a much stronger person who is able to deal with life’s obstacles,” he said. “She is a completely different woman than she was when she came here as a girl.”
Sveum echoed Stephenson’s remarks, saying, “I can’t imaging being anywhere else. Coming here has turned me into the exact person that I want to be.”
While Sveum has improved her athletic technique during her four years here, Stephenson sees her personal maturation as the most important area she has grown in at the University.
“I like to think that some of what goes on in (the gym) transfers out through those doors,” he said. “And I think the whole collegiate experience is more than just going to class.
“I think Kim has really received an education, and I attribute a lot of that to (women’s athletics director) Chris Voelz and the philosophy of the athletic department.”
Sveum came to Minnesota from Minot, N.D., and is majoring in speech communication, with a minor in mass communication. She hopes to go into television broadcasting upon graduation, and has already got her foot in the door thanks to an internship last summer at Midwest Sports Channel (MSC).
“I’m good friends with (former Gophers baseball player and current Twins announcer) Ryan Lefebvre, who works for MSC,” Sveum said. “And he helped set me up with some of the people I needed to talk to.
“So, I worked basically with the Minnesota Twins and helped produce the pregame show for them.”
Although her experience here has been everything she wanted it to be, Sveum said that there is one thing that she will not miss.
“The loon, I probably won’t miss the loon,” she said of the sound the public address announcer plays to indicate the beginning of a rotation. “Isn’t that the most annoying sound in the whole world?” Sveum asked. “It always makes us laugh, because the other teams look at us and go, What is that?'”
Distracting loon sound aside, the atmosphere at the Sports Pavilion on Friday night will be different than at other senior nights across the country.
Assistant coach Doug Day said other schools honor their seniors before the meet. However, he finds that a distraction, so the Gophers will hold theirs after the meet.
“I learned in theater that you want to finish with the best you’ve got to offer,” Stephenson said. “All of our fans have followed these women for four years. They know how great they are, and they know what a source of excitement they’ve been.”
Sveum owns the highest score on the vault in Minnesota history with a 9.925 a year ago against Missouri, and is expected to compete for the Big Ten title at next weekend’s championships in Iowa City, Iowa.
Before then, however, Sveum and her fellow seniors have an earlier loss against Iowa State to avenge in their last home meet ever.
“It’s going to be an emotional night,” Stephenson said, “and I think they are going to be the best that they’ve ever been.”