Minnesota fights through injuries as healthy gymnasts step in to fill voids

Last weekend, the Gophers posted a season-high 48.7 on the vault.

by Mark Heise

Those paying attention to the Minnesota women’s gymnastics team this year might have noticed a dwindling number of healthy gymnasts as the season has progressed.

With three season-ending injuries occurring before the halfway point of the season, the Gophers had every reason to throw in the towel this year.

But Minnesota isn’t about to call it quits anytime soon: The team posted season-best scores on both the floor exercise and the vault last weekend in an effort to work their way back into national rankings.

“We’ve had some challenges, but I think we’ve risen above them,” coach Meg Stephenson said. “I feel good about this group’s determination. I’m really excited for the last half of the season.”

Injuries have cut into the Gophers’ vault, beam and uneven bars lineups, sending Minnesota scrambling to fill holes with its 10 healthy athletes.

“This year we’ve had to tap into our depth,” Stephenson said. “But we’ve been fortunate that the people who have been waiting in the wings are ready and willing to step up. They’ve really enabled us to keep this season alive.”

One of those gymnasts is junior Rehana Russell. A walk-on from Oshkosh, Wis., Russell stepped into the lineup on the uneven bars when needed, despite not being used to her brand new routine.

Russell has averaged a score of 9.45 over three meets, filling a hole in the uneven bars lineup.

“It’s been hard to come back this year and learn a whole new routine,” Russell said. “It’s frustrating sometimes, but when your team’s having trouble on an event and you can help, you sort of make yourself step up.”

Russell received nothing but praise from Stephenson, who said she was happy with Russell’s recent progress.

The Gophers have been able to keep their score steady on the bars, but had been struggling on the vault as senior Kim Womack, sophomore Carmelina Carabajal and freshman Jamie Bullock had missed time due to injuries.

Junior Ashley Stanton stepped in to help Minnesota in that event, despite starting to compete on the vault just this season to help out her injury-ridden squad.

More good news came for the Gophers last weekend as Carabajal, the team’s top vaulter, returned to the lineup, helping to boost the team to a season-high score of 48.7.

“You never want to take any of those losses, but getting Carmelina back was really important for us,” junior captain Amanda Miles said. “Having her and Alexis (Russell) together in the lineup will really help us bring back a competitive edge to the vault.”

Minnesota has shown improvement over the last two weeks and appears to be one or two routines away from a return to scores worthy of national status.

And with four weeks left until the Big Ten tournament, it looks like a good situation to be in.

“There’s always going to be ups and downs, we just have to find ways to move forward and push through,” Miles said. “It’s been a little rocky, but I think we’re starting to put things back together again and get back to where we know we can be.”