Gymnasts take to road for Michigan grudge match

Mark Heller

They’ve had one week of competition, and already the Gophers women’s gymnastics team faces a tough encore.
Fresh off a resounding first victory over smaller Minnesota schools, the No. 7 Gophers hit the long and winding road for the first time this season.
Their travels will lead to Michigan and an engagement with the 5th-ranked Wolverines tonight in Ann Arbor. Michigan and Minnesota have combined to win every Big Ten title since 1991. The Wolverines won six straight titles from 1992-1997, but the Gophers took it away in 1998.
Can you say revenge?
“We haven’t talked about Minnesota,” Wolverines coach Bev Plocki said. “We’ve closed the door on last year, but I think it has helped us as a motivator this year. We just want teams to come away from here feeling they had a good experience.”
At least both teams are outwardly showing a mutual respect for each other.
“They’re a great team and have been for years,” Gophers co-coach Jim Stephenson said. “Michigan is an example of a top-six team in the country. They can be very intimidating, but everywhere we go is going to be similar to this.”
Michigan is hot off an upset of then-No. 2 Florida in Gainesville last weekend in its season opener. Now the Gophers are coming to town, and into a hostile environment.
But Minnesota refuses to get caught up in a Wolverines’ web.
“No question they’re a good team,” freshman Catie Christensen said. “But we’re worried about what we have to do. This is a good chance to show what we can do on the road, not just at home.”
Speaking of the road, this is the first time away from the Pavilion for several Gophers. And what better way to start than against a top-five team?
“I like it,” Stephenson said. “It allows us as a team to get better faster.”
Others don’t quite see it that way just yet.
“Yeah I’m nervous,” freshman Megan Beuckens said. But I’m trying not to think about it. I think we’re ready, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.”
But one thing that seems to be unanimous among players and coaches is that the Gophers can’t let their surroundings rattle them, especially the freshmen.
“We’re going to try and stay introverted,” Stephenson said. “It’s a pressure situation, so we’re going to try and close ourselves off from everything and not pay attention to anything that is happening.
“I’ll be real surprised and disappointed if it (intimidation and crowd) does bother us. I think we can rise above it.”
And for those who still don’t believe there is enough to consider this a big meet, here is one more thing to chew on: The Gophers beat Michigan to win the Big Ten championship last year by five-tenths of a point.
“They’re looking for payback,” Stephenson said. “I know I would be.”