Gophers ready for regional meet

Minnesota will make its 22nd consecutive NCAA appearance this weekend.

Paige Williams performs her floor routine at Best of Minnesota in the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Feb, 26. 2017.

Meagan Lynch, Daily File Photo

Paige Williams performs her floor routine at Best of Minnesota in the Sports Pavilion on Sunday, Feb, 26. 2017.

Emily Polglaze

For the 22nd year straight, Minnesota is sending athletes to an NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Regional.

The Gophers will compete in Lincoln, Nebraska Saturday at 4 p.m. against No. 2 LSU, No. 11 Boise State, No. 14 Nebraska, No. 25 Arizona and Iowa State.

“I think [the team] is really excited for the opportunity, and really we don’t have any pressure,” said head coach Jenny Hansen. “I feel like they’re going in really confident and aggressive, but this is our opportunity to have a great meet and have fun, and kind of show everybody what we’re about.”

The Lincoln Regional is one of six, and there are 12 open spots for teams to qualify for the NCAA Championships April 14-15.

Beyond team qualification, all-around competitors from non-advancing teams also qualify for the next phase of competition, as well as event title winners from non-advancing teams.

The Gophers meet some tough, unfamiliar competition in the meet, but they know what they’re up against.

“I think most of us stay pretty up-to-date with gymnastics, we’ve been watching these teams all season,” said junior Hannah Hitchcock. “Our mindset is to just focus on ourselves going into the meet … we just want to do our best.”

Of the Gophers’ 22-year postseason streak, the team has advanced to the NCAA Championships as a team four times and with individuals 10 times. The last time to championships for the team was last year.

Minnesota’s roster of half returners, half newcomers, finished tied for fifth in the Big Ten after winning the title last year, but some of the newcomers have made a big impact throughout the season.

Paige Williams was named to the All Big-Ten Championships team and finished in a tie for third in the vault the team’s last time out. She also notched a personal-best on floor with a 9.900.

“Hopefully [the underclassmen] will take everything they’ve learned so far this season and go at it the same way they have all year long,” Hansen said. “Not change anything, it’s just the same routine they’ve been doing all year, they’ve just got to do it one more time.”

The Gophers will also rely on some of its veterans to perform well in the regional meet.

Senior Bailie Holst was recently named to the All-Big Ten First Team and will be a solid contender in the all-around competition. Holst has one first place, three second place and one third place finish so far this year.

Junior Ciara Gardner was named to the conference’s second team, and will likely be Minnesota’s second all-around representative. She has two first place and four third-place finishes this season.

Gardner, Williams and Hitchcock were named to the All-Big Ten Championships team as well.

The Gophers will start the meet with their best event – floor. The team is currently ranked 14th in the country on the floor with an average score of 49.245.

From there, it gets tougher for Minnesota. The team then goes to the vault, bars and beam, in that order. It’s also a descending curve in average scores for the team.

The Gophers know their strengths, but also know what they need to do to be successful in the events that have been tougher for them this season.

“I think we’re going to focus on the little things,” Williams said. “So stuck landings and handstands, and our presentation … showing off our beam routines and our dance on floor.”