Johnson qualifies; women’s squad falls just short

Emily Wickstrom

Just like last season, Minnesota women’s gymnast Laura Johnson will be competing in the NCAA Championships.

But again, she won’t be taking her teammates with her.

The Gophers placed fifth as a team Saturday with a score of 194.675 at the NCAA North Central Regional Championships in Ames, Iowa.

Arizona State (196.675) and host Iowa State (195.725) placed first and second, respectively, to earn berths to the NCAA Championships.

Johnson, a senior, scored 39.250 to place second in the all-around among teams that did not qualify for the NCAA Championships to earn her second-straight trip to nationals.

“Definitely it’s mixed emotions,” Johnson said. “I’m happy that I get to go, but it won’t be the same without the team. That wasn’t the original goal, so it’s a little upsetting.”

As a team Minnesota was in range of placing in the top two through its first three events.

The Gophers hit all their routines on balance beam, floor exercise and vault.

“We had three great events,” co-coach Meg Stephenson said. “We were really proud of the team the way they came out and started things off.”

But when it came time to compete in the uneven bars – the Gophers’ weakest event – in the last rotation, Minnesota struggled.

Rehana Russell and Ashley Mutchler fell off the bars in the first two Minnesota routines, and the resulting scores were too much to overcome.

“We got to the bars and we just had a lot of pressure,” Stephenson said. “The first two kids faltered and that was enough to keep us out of it.

“It’s hard to go on to the national finals when you count a fall.”

The North Central region turned out to be a difficult draw, Stephenson said, as the Gophers’ score would have been enough to place in the top three in regional meets across the country.

“We had a great season,” Stephenson said. “That’s the one thing that everyone’s bringing home with them today.

“We definitely think we made much better strides this season than even last year. That’s encouraging to keep moving in the right direction.”

Angela Walker and Ashley Stanton each scored a 9.800 for the team-high scores on balance beam.

Freshman Carmelina Carabajal scored 9.850 to tie for fourth on vault, while also tying for sixth place on floor exercise with a score of 9.850.

Johnson also scored 9.850 on floor exercise and tied junior Stephanie Funk for the team-high score of 9.800 on uneven bars.

“What’s amazing about (Johnson) is that in her senior year she’s improved her gymnastics so much,” Stephenson said. “A lot of times seniors are the ones who get replaced by the younger kids and Laura has continued to improve all four years. Ö (Qualifying for the NCAA Championships) is a reward that’s well-deserved.”

Lee ninth at NCAAs

Minnesota men’s gymnast Jake Lee placed ninth in the all-around Friday with a score of 52.925 at the NCAA Championships in Norman, Okla.

Lee also placed ninth overall on the pommel horse in Saturday’s event finals with a score of 7.925.

Kit Beikmann, Sergei Dmitriev and Justin Meyer also qualified for the event finals.

As a team, the Gophers placed fifth Thursday with a score of 206.950 in the team qualifying round.

Oklahoma won its second-consecutive team title with a score of 221.400.