Two freshman look to fill in for Cavazos at national meet

by Susan Filkins

Two weeks ago, the Gophers women’s gymnastics team qualified for the NCAA championships for the first time in the history of the program. Minnesota will get its chance to perform this weekend in Gainesville, Fla.
Finishing fourth in their region, the Gophers’ possibility of advancing to nationals looked pretty dim. But their score of 195.125 was high enough to earn a qualifying spot.
Minnesota’s score was good enough for the 11th qualifying spot out of a possible 12. Gophers coach Jim Stephenson and his team could not be more excited.
“I am tremendously proud of my athletes,” Stephenson said. “They are the ones who really make this happen, but I am also very glad to be there as well.”
The No. 11 Gophers were not 100 percent healthy heading into the regional meet in Ann Arbor, Mich., and finished it without their only athlete in the all-around competition.
Freshman Judith Cavazos was in the middle of her floor exercise when her ankle gave out, and she was unable to finish her routine. The prognosis was a slight sprain, and the consequence left Minnesota with a vacant spot for the remaining two events.
Stephenson did not panic that evening, though, because his team has thrived off their depth all season. When a situation like this arises, he knows he has other gymnasts who he can call upon to do the job.
Two other freshman were asked to fill Cavazos’ spot in the lineup. Kristi Selinger and Melissa Chang were called upon unexpectedly to compete at regionals, and they will be asked to do the same thing at nationals if Cavazos does not compete.
With Cavazos still questionable to compete in the all-around for the Gophers, Stephenson said he is hoping she will at least be able to compete in the uneven bars. In the meantime, he is preparing Selinger and Chang to fill those crucial spots in the lineup.
“Kristi and Chang proved last weekend that they can fill those spots,” Stephenson said. “We enter in this with a good level of confidence for our options. I feel that both of them have been training hard in the likelihood that they are going to fill those spots.”
The Gophers will take the floor for competition on Thursday night in the second session of six teams. The lineup as of now will include Chang filling in for Cavazos on the vault and possibly the uneven bars. Selinger will be asked to step in on the floor exercise as the Gophers’ first competitor in the event.
“I am excited because it makes me feel more a part of the team,” Selinger said. “I have been doing floor in practice all year, so I don’t think it will be too stressful.”
Selinger has been a part of the vault lineup for the entire season and also secured a spot on the beam earlier this year.
Chang, on the other hand, has only competed in a couple of meets before regionals.
“You just have to be prepared to do that,” Chang said. “You have to try to be as mentally prepared as you can and go up there and give it your best shot.”
Although Cavazos said she has never healed so quickly in her life from an injury, it is still doubtful she will be able to compete in the all-around competition at NCAAs.
“I feel like I am ready for everything, but it is their decision,” Cavazos said. “It’s a little scary to put pressure on it, but I feel pretty good.”
Cavazos, as confident as she is, still cannot erase the reality of her heavily taped ankle. Knowing this, Selinger and Chang are quickly learning how important their role on the team really is.
“If it happens to be that they need me, I think I can do what I need to do and perform to the best of my ability,” Chang said. “I am glad I can contribute and help any way that I can, whether it is supporting or competing — whatever is needed.”