It was inevitable. The No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team entered the Sports Pavilion, confident it would take home its sixth consecutive Big Ten championship.
In the end, the Wolverines were victorious despite close contention from a tough and pesky Gophers team, who had the best meet ever for Minnesota.
Michigan won after edging No. 20 Minnesota in the floor exercise during the final rotation. The Wolverines scored a 197.150. The Gophers finished just behind them with a 196.350.
Minnesota’s score breaks its previous school record set earlier this season against Utah when it recorded a 195.
“This is the best gymnastics meet Minnesota has ever had,” Gophers coach Jim Stephenson said. “We did not have to count any routines that weren’t excellent, and some of our people performed as well or better than they ever have.”
Wolverines coach Beverly Plocki said Minnesota’s performance was the closest anybody has contended with them at the Big Ten championship in several years.
“They had a fantastic meet, and it was good for us,” Plocki said. “We need to be able to compete under that kind of pressure and that kind of threat of somebody being there.”
Michigan led the meet over Minnesota by three-tenths of a point heading into the final rotation where the Gophers were on the floor exercise. Minnesota had already completed its competition and had to patiently watch the Wolverines pull away with the championship.
Three Michigan gymnasts, who all scored a 9.925 in the floor to edge Minnesota junior Mindy Knaeble’s score of 9.9, took a three-way tie for first place in the event.
The Gophers said after the meet they felt they were unfairly judged in the floor exercise as they recorded one of their lowest team scores in the event all year.
“We were a little perplexed,” Stephenson said. “I thought we probably should have complained or inquired about the rational of our judging because our floor was excellent. I also thought Mindy Knaeble did the best floor routine of the evening. She had a presentation that nobody else on that event had.”
Knaeble was the only Gopher to win a Big Ten championship in an individual event. She shared the balance beam title with Michigan sophomores Lisa Simes and Beth Amelkovich who all scored a 9.95.
The Gophers’ second place finish is the highest for Minnesota since it won the championship in 1991. Still, to see Michigan win the title again was a letdown for the Gophers.
“We did a good job,” Knaeble said. “I think everyone is just a little disappointed because we gave so much, and we deserved it.”
Following Michigan and Minnesota was No. 16 Ohio State in third with a 195.825. In fourth place was Michigan State with a 195.475.
The individual events were again dominated by Michigan. Wolverines freshman Sarah Cain, who was also named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, won the all-around competition. She also won a share of the floor exercise title with her teammates, junior Heather Kabnick and sophomore Nikki Peters.
Peters defended her Big Ten uneven bars title by winning the event with a 9.95. Gophers freshman Judith Cavazos finished in a tie for fifth on bars with Ohio State senior Koyuki Oka.
Michigan’s Kabnick won the vault competition scoring a 9.95. Minnesota junior Kim Sveum took a share of fourth place with Cain, scoring a 9.9.
Also during the awards ceremony, Stephenson was named Big Ten Coach of the Year. He said he was not shocked to win the award.
“I had a feeling I was going to get this because my colleagues from the other universities have been hinting at it,” Stephenson said. “The other schools are dying to beat Michigan, and I think I got this because I was the most threatening to Michigan.”
Despite Minnesota’s run to contend with Michigan, it now must wait until next year for another attempt to take the title away.
“I just want to assure them that next year we are going to give them a run for the money,” Knaeble said. “I’m sure they know … they can’t look at us like ‘oh Minnesota, whatever.'”