Seniors get last chance to perform at Pavilion

by Susan Filkins

Senior gymnasts Jonda Hammons and Kristen Vandersall have been inseparable since the first day they met during their recruiting trip to Minnesota. Since then, they have experienced everything together.
Tonight, Vandersall and Hammons will take the floor for the last time together as No. 20 Minnesota faces No. 14 Iowa State at the Sports Pavilion in its last regular season meet.
Although the two seniors do not anticipate shedding tears, mixed emotions of competing in their final meet at home (aside from the Big Ten championships on March 22) are inevitable.
“It’s one thing to think it’s your last meet, but to know it’s your last meet is different,” Vandersall said. “You don’t want to give in to the pressure of it; you want to treat it like a regular meet.”
Hammons concurred with her teammate but said when she gets set to compete tonight, she wants to make her final performance a lasting impression.
“No matter what happens, I want that to be my final feeling to encompass my whole career and make it positive no matter what,” Hammons said.
After competing in three events her first two years, Hammons injured her back and has since become a specialist in the floor exercise.
Last weekend Hammons, a native of Lodi, Calif., recorded a career high score of 9.9 in the floor at the Corvette Cup in Columbus, Mo. Junior Mindy Knaeble is the only other Gopher to have scored a 9.9 in the event.
“We thought Jonda was going to help us the most with floor exercise, and that is certainly holding true,” Gophers coach Jim Stephenson said. “She serves as an excellent example for the rest of the team on how to take the best possible advantage on an event and present it to the judge.”
Vandersall, from Plymouth, is also one of Minnesota’s best performers in the floor exercise. Several times this season she has tied her career best of 9.875, not far behind Hammons and Knaeble.
Vandersall also competes in the uneven bars where she finished third at the Big Tens last year with a career best score of 9.9.
She and Hammons were part of a recruiting class of four gymnasts, but two have since suffered injuries. Junior Lacey Purkat was recruited the same year but had to redshirt her sophomore season after having major knee surgery. The other recruit was former Gopher Stephanie Polly, who was forced to retire early after suffering an injury last season.
All four currently live together and will continue to do so next year while completing their degrees. Hammons calls their relationship as close as any one she will ever have.
“When we all first met, we knew nothing about each other,” Hammons said. “Now, I think we have a relationship like no other.”
Vandersall agreed.
“In years past, we’ve encountered six other classes on our team, and there has been a conflict or a little clique or something throughout all of them,” she said. “But we have never had a conflict like that. I can’t remember ever fighting or being annoyed to be with them.”
It is this kind of close-knit relationship that Vandersall said she will remember most in her years as a Gopher. Hammons nodded in agreement saying the team camaraderie is what she will take with her upon finishing her career at Minnesota.
This season, the Gophers have compiled a 12-4 record, going 4-1 in the Big Ten. They also recorded a team high score of 195 against Utah at the Pavilion earlier this season. The score was a monumental feat for Minnesota, especially its team captains.
“We look back to when we were frosh and were scoring 188s, and now we have scored a 195 and are thinking this is what it was supposed to be like for all four years,” Vandersall said. “To bring a team that far, and for Jonda and I to be co-captains of a team that is that good, is a great feeling of accomplishment.”