Mind games help gymnasts past Iowa

by David La

Perhaps the No. 8 Minnesota women’s gymnastics team should invite the men’s basketball team to a meet on the road sometime soon.
Or maybe co-head coaches Jim and Meg Stephenson could speak at the next basketball team meeting. The topic? Winning away from home.
The Gophers gymnastics team is about to embark on a four-meet stretch away from the comforts of the Sports Pavilion, but are showing no signs of anxiety. In fact, they’re looking forward to engaging in the mind games that keep them focused on the road.
“We talk ourselves into `The people are coming to see us, because if we didn’t come tonight, no one would be here,'” Jim Stephenson said.
The self-anointed show-stoppers will have to prove their mettle over the next four meets, but given the Gophers’ success on Saturday against overmatched Iowa, the degree of difficulty should be manageable.
“In gymnastics, winning or losing doesn’t matter,” Meg Stephenson said. “We’re totally ranked on our scores, and tonight’s score will certainly help us.”
The 194.275 score posted by Minnesota is the team’s second highest total this season, and Saturday’s win gives them a 3-2 record.
Physically taxing sports such as gymnastics require athletes to use other sorts of mind games necessary for success. The ability to focus through nagging injuries and concentrate during routines is essential, and the Gophers rode two such performers against the Hawkeyes.
Sophomore Shanyn Lancaster tied for first place in the vault event for the second straight meet, and was voted the meet’s Most Vital Performer.
“She’s had some problems with her back and hurt her knee about five weeks ago,” Jim Stephenson said. “She’s been coming back, and to see her go out and act like a champ, she was really deserving.”
Cathy Keyser, Minnesota’s lone senior performer, took the top spot in the balance beam event, giving the defending Big Ten beam champion her second win in as many meets.
Keyser’s attitude about performing on the road helps to set the tone for her teammates, six of whom are freshmen.
“When we’re away I look at it as, no one knows me here,” Keyser said. “So I can relax more and I get through just as well.”
John Lennon once wrote “Faith in the future, outta the now,” and on Saturday both Gophers coaches sang the praises of sparkling exhibition performances by team members who will factor in when the inevitable injuries come to call.
“To see that level of success with our back-up people tonight,” Jim Stephenson said, “that was really a confidence-builder for all of us.”
“They need competitive experience, because things could happen in the future and they’re the people we’ll have to fall back on,” coach Meg Stephenson said.
For the next four road meets, Minnesota hopes to rely on more of those strong performances, and keep on playing those mind games.