Gophers get a break from top teams in the nation

After a tough one against Michigan, Ill.-Chicago should be a nice change of pace.

Luke Middendorf

The No. 25 Minnesota women’s gymnastics team has seen a wide spectrum of competition over the last month with road meets against No. 2 Utah and No. 5 Michigan, and the Best of Minnesota meet with in-state Div. II teams sandwiched in the middle.

After last week’s close loss to the Wolverines, who are now ranked No. 4 in the nation, the Gophers return to the friendly confines of the Sports Pavilion this Saturday to take on unranked Illinois-Chicago for what should be a much easier test.

“They’re not going to be a competitive team with us,” co-head coach Jim Stephenson said of the Flames. “But our focus is on improving our own score and performance.”

The more than four-point loss to Michigan last weekend was a disappointing meet, Stephenson said, but ultimately sparked a new intensity for the Gophers.

Stephenson added that the impact of the tough loss has elevated the passion at Minnesota’s practices and its goals for the upcoming meets.

“It’s like a lot of things, you bounce off the bottom very aggressively if you don’t like the bottom,” Stephenson said. “We (Minnesota) didn’t care for the bottom very much.”

An added bonus for the Gophers is that Michigan did not get to see Minnesota’s best performance last week, which could give the Gophers an advantage when they return to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Big Ten Championships on March 29.

“We were able to take what was a poor performance or a negative and turn it into a positive,” Stephenson said. “Our plan is to go back there and be a completely different team – a team that they (Michigan) didn’t see there the other night.”

Minnesota is also in the process of getting back to full force with the return of sophomore Alexis Russell, who injured her right knee competing on vault in the meet against New Hampshire on Jan. 19 and has not competed since.

Russell was the alternate on floor exercise at Michigan last weekend, and it is probable she’ll return to competition this Saturday against Illinois-Chicago.

“If we have all of our athletes to choose from, we have a tremendous lineup,” Stephenson said.

Men receive a break

The Gophers men’s gymnastics team will not be competing in a meet this weekend and do not have another meet until March 1, when they take on both Nebraska and Temple at the Sports Pavilion.

Head coach Mike Burns said the team would be practicing and refining its routines over the weekend instead of competing, which will be useful for the final stretch of the season.

Minnesota has just three meets left until the Big Ten championships, which will be held on April 4 and 5 at Penn State.