Strother earns two titles; women’s team advances to finals

Ben Goessling

Junior Clay Strother won his second consecutive national championship on both the pommel horse and floor exercise Saturday night at the NCAA Men’s Gymnastics Championships in Norman, Okla. He scored a 9.612 on floor exercise and a 9.775 on pommel horse, both season highs.

Strother also finished sixth in the all-around to earn his sixth All-America honor in two years.

“Floor has been a struggle all year,” Strother said. “But I knew I had the ability to put it together, and I probably did the best pommel horse set of my career last night.”

Freshman Guillermo Alvarez finished third on floor exercise to give Minnesota two of the top three spots in the event.

The fifth-ranked Gophers missed qualifying for Friday’s team championships, losing to Stanford by 1.15 points. Minnesota’s score of 212.85 was its lowest since it posted a 209.15 in a Feb. 2nd loss to Iowa.

Like their showing at the Big Ten Championships, the Gophers performed well on their weaker events, only to see a shot at the championship evaporate on floor exercise, on which they are ranked first in the nation.

Roethlisberger was undeterred by rumors that surfaced over the weekend of his program’s possible elimination, saying he is more focused on getting his team ready for next season.

“I don’t think they’re going to drop the sport. It just doesn’t compute to try and solve the problems they have by dropping gymnastics,” he said. “We’re going to be a lot better next year, and (the rumors) stimulate us all that much more.”

Women’s gymnastics

With its second-place finish in Saturday’s Southeast Regional Championships in Morgantown, W. Va., Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team qualified for the NCAA Championships for the first time since 1997.

The Gophers posted a score of 196.05, finishing behind second-ranked Alabama, who won with a score of 197.9. Minnesota beat third-place West Virginia by 1.2 points.

“We were thrilled with our performance,” said co-coach Meg Stephenson. “Going in, we thought it would be tighter than it was. We didn’t have the greatest performance on balance beam, but we’re happy with the score.”

Senior MaryAnne Kelley finished in a tie for second in the all-around and led the Gophers to a season-high 49.55 on floor exercise by scoring a 9.95. Sophomore Mary Skokut finished fifth in the all-around.

Stephenson said the team has a favorable draw for the national preliminaries on Apr. 19 and will have an excellent chance to advance to the six-team national finals.

“This is a team that hasn’t made nationals, but probably should have,” she said. “We know we’re good enough to be there. We still have room to improve, so we’re not happy just to make the national championships. I think we can be in the Super Six.”