Gophers women head to regional

The North Central regional in Salt Lake City should be tightly contested.

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team has one chance to achieve its seasonlong goal of qualifying for the NCAA Championships.

And the Gophers like their chances Saturday in Salt Lake City at the NCAA North Central Region Championships.

Although there are three schools with higher qualifying scores, Minnesota is aiming to sneak up on them.

In fact, the Gophers are counting on it.

“We’re coming in as the fourth team, but I don’t think we are,” senior Carolyn Yernberg said. “I don’t think people are expecting us to be as good as we are because we haven’t seen those teams. We’re going to surprise them. It’s going to be fun.”

Along with Utah, the meet’s host and top-ranked team in the country, the Gophers will be competing against Oregon State, Brigham Young, Southern Utah and Iowa for a spot in the NCAA Championships in two weeks in Auburn, Ala.

The top two teams will advance. The last time Minnesota qualified for the NCAA meet was in 2002.

The next four teams after Utah have regional qualifying scores separated by just more than half a point, setting up what should be a very close meet.

Minnesota co-coach Meg Stephenson said that she felt her team is in a good place after a strong showing at the Big Ten Championships, in which every gymnast hit her routine.

“It’s much nicer going into a championship meet when you come off a great championship meet,” Stephenson said. “It was definitely a positive – not only in their performance but in the way they were as a team, their camaraderie and focus as a group.”

Stephenson said the Big Ten meet was also good preparation for the intense atmosphere of a regional championship meet, which is something that really cannot be duplicated in practice.

Although Minnesota ultimately wants to qualify for nationals, team members said they would have nothing to be disappointed about with hitting all their routines and scoring a season-high but missing the cut.

“As a team, we’re not really trying to focus on win or lose, just what we can do in the moment,” freshman Ashley Stanton said. “We’ve worked hard for it, and we’re ready.”

Whatever happens, the Gophers are trying to avoid what occurred at last year’s regionals, when the team scored the lowest it had all season and finished last.

“They don’t want that to happen again,” Stephenson said. “I think they’ve done things all year long to go into this meet feeling good and feeling prepared.”

Men fifth in session one

Minnesota’s men’s team finished fifth in their session of the NCAA Championships qualifying Thursday, ending the team’s season with a team score of 217.40.

Senior Guillermo Alvarez won the floor exercise (9.875), pommel horse (9.700) and vault (9.650) to set himself up for a run at an individual national title Saturday. But he finished second to defending champion Luis Vargas 56.075-26.025 in the session.

The Gophers also qualified Scott Garner on the floor and parallel bars, Justin Meyer on the horse and Clinton Mays on the still rings.