Women gymnasts lose finale

Sam Campanaro

Seniors Jenny Alf, Leigh Dixon and Kelly Watson shed a few tears as they competed in their last home gymnastics meet of the season at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday.

University President Robert Bruininks and his wife Susan made an appearance to honor the women in a ceremony following the meet.

Along with their families, teammates and coaches, the three seniors were able to celebrate the Gophers’ best meet of the season.

But even with its highest score of the year, 21st-ranked Minnesota fell to 20th-ranked Iowa 196.65 to 196.50.

“Everyone gave their all for our last meet,” Alf said. “It was really special having our best meet of the year on our senior night.”

Minnesota turned in top performances claiming or tying first place on each of the four events.

Mary Skokut tied for first on the bars with Alexis Maday of Iowa. Carolyn Yernberg claimed the first-place title on the floor and tied for first with two of Iowa’s gymnasts on the vault.

Alf tied the team record on balance beam and took first place on the event with a score of 9.925. She also tied for second place on the floor with Maday.

The Gophers have seen steady improvement from some of their younger competitors throughout the season.

Freshman Laura Johnson tied her personal best scores on the bars and on floor. She was also the only all-around competitor for Minnesota on Saturday where she tied for fourth place.

Competing in only her third meet of the season, freshman Nicole Yunker had a rough night on beam, falling twice. Her shaky beam performance didn’t prevent her from tying her personal best score on floor.

During her floor routine, Yunker fell on her head during a tumbling element and was shaken up after the performance. She was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, but there was no indication of a serious injury.

The Gophers will continue to rely on their younger members as they focus on Big Ten and NCAA championship meets.

“We look at how good this team is without some key players and some people have had to step up and they are continuously getting better,” coach Jim Stephenson said. “Considering what’s happened to this squad this year, we are as good as we can possibly be.”

Stephenson was torn between feeling agonized and thrilled on Saturday. He was upset that the seniors were leaving and that they lost by such a small margin to Iowa. However, he was excited that the Gophers posted their highest score of the year.

As the seniors move on from the Minnesota gymnastics team, filling the holes they leave is a top priority on Stephenson’s agenda.

The Gophers have recruited five all-around competitors for next year. Stephenson said this is the best recruiting class he has signed in his career. Current Gophers may also be expected to step up and compete.

“When the seniors leave, the rest of the team starts working really hard because they know there are spots available now,” Stephenson said.

Sam Campanaro welcomes comments at [email protected]