Opsahl sisters enjoying competition together

The two have been involved in gymnastics since they were young.

Kent Erdahl

After every Minnesota women’s gymnastics meet, a fleet of young girls seek autographs and a little attention from the Gophers’ gymnasts.

Senior gymnast Alicia Opsahl and sophomore Maria Opsahl said they certainly don’t mind the attention because the sisters know things have come full circle.

“My dad would take us to Gophers meets,” Maria Opsahl said. “Watching the Gophers really inspired us and got us excited.”

The sisters did not waste time following in the footsteps of their favorite gymnasts. The two began practicing together from the time Alicia Opsahl was five and Maria Opsahl was two.

“I always grew up knowing I wanted to do college gymnastics,” Alicia Opsahl said. “It was always the ultimate goal.”

Joining the Gophers

Alicia Opsahl continued to train with her sister until she graduated from Forest Lake High School in 2000, and her successes, including three appearances in the Junior Olympic Nationals, caused Minnesota to come calling.

“We recruited her hard,” said Meg Stephenson, who coaches the Gophers along with her husband, Jim Stephenson. “Alicia was a catch.”

Alicia Opsahl said she knew Minnesota’s program was a good fit, and she quickly showed it. In her first two years, Alicia Opsahl became an Academic All-Big Ten honoree, and was a key part of the Gophers’ 2002 squad, which made it to the NCAA Tournament.

“I was out on the floor with chills,” Alicia Opsahl said. “It was what we had worked for all year, and it just came to completion.”

Despite the quick success in her first two seasons, Alicia missed having her sister by her side.

“The two years that I wasn’t with Maria were just different,” Alicia Opsahl said. “We had to adjust to not being the support we always were to each other.”

Easy recruiting

When Maria Opsahl graduated high school in 2002, Minnesota’s coaches approached Alicia Opsahl about recruiting her sister.

The coaches said they got a quick answer from the older sibling.

“We were just hoping and praying that Jim and Meg would find in Maria what they wanted in a recruit,” Alicia Opsahl said. “It was just exciting for me to know that we would be working together again.”

When the coaches finally asked Maria to join the team, she said she immediately accepted.

“I was just screaming,” Maria Opsahl said. “My mom and I were just doing flips around the house because it felt so right. It was a dream come true.”

Together again

Last season, the Opsahls were again training side by side, and they said being part of Minnesota’s program made things extra special.

“My first day here they all probably thought I was so weird,” Maria Opsahl said, “because I couldn’t stop smiling,”

In their first year back together, the Opsahls looked impressive. Maria Opsahl competed solidly on the beam and floor exercise, and Alicia Opsahl was a team leader who shared the team MVP award.

This season, Alicia Opsahl has continued to lead the Gophers, and is now a regular in the all-around for the first time in her career. Maria Opsahl has also stepped up her performance and now competes in three events instead of two, adding the uneven bars.

Last run

Alicia Opsahl will finish her career with the Gophers this spring, but the sisters will continue to work together. Alicia said she will return as a student coach while she attends graduate school next season.

“At least I don’t have to go completely cold turkey,” Opsahl said. “I can live vicariously through everyone else, especially my sister.”

For now, the Opsahls are looking forward to the Big Ten Tournament, which will be held on March 20 at the Sports Pavilion.

Although it is Alicia Opsahl’s final event at home, she will continue to smile alongside her sister and inspire young girls.

“I always want to smile out there, because when I was younger, my favorite gymnasts were the girls who really smiled and looked like they were having a blast,” Alicia Opsahl said.