Carabajal to be a ‘great representative’ for Minnesota at NCAA championships

The junior earned an individual spot to compete during the Gophers’ regional.

Although the Minnesota women’s gymnastics team failed to qualify for the 2008 NCAA Championship – missing the cut by just one spot at the NCAA Regionals – Gophers junior Carmelina Carabajal will still be sporting maroon and gold at Thursday’s championship meet.

Being the top all-around competitor at the regional meet who was not a part of a team advancing to the NCAA Championship, Carabajal qualified to compete at the national meet as an individual all-arounder.

The junior tallied a 39.275, just .025 shy of her personal best score at the regional meet, and now will rotate with Florida’s team as an individual all-around competitor on Thursday in Georgia.

“I’m just really excited to be here to see the great gymnastics and be a part of it,” Carabajal said. “This is a really big deal to me.”

While only 12 teams move on to the NCAA Championship, the Gophers strong performance at the regional meet will allow them to finish the 2008 season with a No. 16 national ranking, good enough for fourth-best in school history.

Minnesota’s lone-representative at the meet said she wishes her entire team could compete with her on Thursday, but that she will take pride in representing the Gophers and their hard work this season.

“All year long we were traveling together, and today on the plane I kept looking around and saying, ‘Where are my teammates?,’ ” Carabajal said. “I really wanted them to be here and I really miss them. But I want to have a good experience here so I can go back and tell them about it so they get excited for next year, because we have a good chance of making it.”

Co-head coach Meg Stephenson said Minnesota’s excitement level is still high after its strong finish to the season, and seeing a teammate move on to the championship is the “icing on the cake.”

“We are just so proud of her, and we know she will be a great representative of Minnesota down here,” Stephenson said.

Supporting her by sending cards, gifts, text messages and joining her in the gym for practice when their season was over, Carabajal said she is extremely thankful for everything her team has done to get her prepared for this meet.

“They have been the ultimate of team players,” Stephenson added.

Stephenson, along with husband and co-head coach Jim, and Carabajal’s mom, dad and boyfriend will support her at the meet on Thursday, which is rumored to be a sold out event with over 10,000 fans in attendance.

“This is an audience down here that really appreciates women’s gymnastics, and she is one of those crowd-pleasing athletes,” Stephenson said. “I think she is going to find a lot of support in the fans here.”