Knaeble takes a title at Big Tens

by Susan Filkins

When junior Mindy Knaeble finished her nearly flawless balance beam routine at the Big Ten championships, she was met by Gophers assistant coach Meg Stephenson, who embraced her in a hug.
It had been a long season for Minnesota in the balance beam. Continual problems resulted in at least two or three gymnasts falling off the apparatus at every meet. Knaeble’s routine was a proud moment for Stephenson.
Knaeble’s score of 9.95 was met with a thundering response from a large contingent of family and friends in the Sports Pavilion. Stephenson pushed Knaeble out of the Gophers’ huddle to acknowledge and wave to the crowd once more.
Her score in the beam tied Minnesota’s school record on an individual apparatus. Senior Kristen Vandersall and freshman Judith Cavazos both scored a 9.95 in the floor exercise against Iowa State in the Gopher’s final regular meet of the season.
The score was also a Big Ten record for the highest score in the balance beam during the championship meet.
Knaeble’s performance not only pleased Meg Stephenson but also Gophers coach Jim Stephenson.
“She was unbelievable,” Jim Stephenson said. “I told her when she got down, that was the best beam routine I had ever seen. She does incredible difficulty and to be able to perform without any wobbles whatsoever. She was in perfect balance throughout the entire thing. When you look at that along with the amount of difficulty she does, it was an incredible performance.”
Knaeble’s score was not to be unmatched for long. In the next rotation, Michigan was on the beam and had two gymnasts record identical scores.
Michigan sophomores Beth Amelkovich and Lisa Simes tied Knaeble’s score in a three-way tie for the Big Ten championship on the event.
Ironically, Simes was the same gymnast who Knaeble tied in the floor exercise at last year’s Big Tens. Simes and Knaeble shared the title in the floor with a 9.85.
Knaeble’s title last year was the first individual Big Ten champion for Minnesota since 1991. She now has won an individual championship two years in a row.
After sharing last year’s title though, Knaeble wanted this one all to herself.
“I really wanted it on my own,” Knaeble said. “I didn’t have any wobbles in it. I was trying so hard to stick the dismount but I had to take that little hop. I knew it was a good routine, but I didn’t know how anyone else had done.”
When Knaeble was announced during the final awards presentation to receive her Big Ten championship plaque, Meg Stephenson grabbed her own camera and ran out to the center of the floor to take a personal snapshot of her first Big Ten champion. Meg Stephenson takes full responsibility in coaching the beam.
The trials Minnesota has had this season on the beam have been a huge struggle. Meg Stephenson has worked all year to find a consistent lineup of gymnasts who are confident in their routines.
During the Big Ten championships, the Gophers did not have to count a fall in the beam for the first time all season. Jim Stephenson said he was proud of his athletes, but especially happy for his beam coach.
“It has been a real trial for her,” Jim Stephenson said. “She cares passionately about her job at this university and feels very responsible for the success of that group.”
Knaeble was all smiles standing on the top of the podium in front of a standing ovation from nearly 2,000 Minnesota fans. It was a proud moment for her, Meg Stephenson and the entire Gophers team.