It’s crunch time for Minn. as Big Tens approach

The Gophers host the Tar Heels as they prepare for a run at a Big Ten title.

It’s coming down to the wire for the No. 25-ranked Minnesota women’s gymnastics team with three meets remaining until the Big Ten championships on March 29, starting at 6 p.m. on Friday with a meet against No. 27 North Carolina in the Sports Pavilion.

Luckily for the Gophers, they seem to be hitting full stride at exactly the right time, posting two season-high scores in a row during last weekend’s trip through Iowa and regaining a healthy roster for the first time all season.

“We got out to kind-of a rough start in the beginning of the season, but we’re finally figuring things out as a team and getting where we need to be,” junior Angela Walker said. “We’re peaking at around a good time, so hopefully in these next three meets we will keep improving and climbing to get better and better.”

In its first stop in Iowa City last Friday, Minnesota put up a season-high score of 194.725 in its close loss to the Hawkeyes.

Then, after a day of rest, the Gophers took a short trip north to Iowa State on Sunday, where Minnesota topped its previous season-high two days prior by scoring a 194.950 in its second win over the Cyclones this season.

“We’re trying to get the planets to align here at the right moment,” Gophers co-head coach Jim Stephenson said. “The regular season is important for your national ranking, but it’s really going to come down to how we look at the Big Ten Championships and how we look at the NCAA regionals. That is, by far, the most important part of the year.”

In the beginning of the season, minor injuries plagued Minnesota’s roster and forced less-experienced gymnasts into competition.

Because of injuries, the Gophers have been forced to use three freshmen on the bars this season: Kendra Elm, Kristin Furukawa and Yuri Nagai. Furukawa is currently tied with junior Carmelina Carabajal for Minnesota’s top average score on the bars this season and tallied a 9.850 to win her second event title last week at Iowa.

While Stephenson said the experience the underclassmen have gained from competing in live meets will help the Gophers in the long-term, he also added that Minnesota’s best chance to win now and in the postseason is with a full and healthy roster.

“We went through some minor injuries early on in the season and the majority of those are being resolved to the point where we are able to feed those people back into lineup, which is helping us reach what we would look at as our optimum lineup,” Stephenson said.

Men off this weekend

After placing first in last weekend’s three-team meet with a score of 342.800, the No. 8-ranked Minnesota men’s gymnastics squad gets this weekend off before a trip to No. 3 Oklahoma next Saturday.

The Gophers are posting an average score of 344.283 this season.