Injury-plagued Gophers host Hawkeyes

Mark Heise

Limping into the halfway point of the season, the Minnesota women’s gymnastics team is hoping for a little luck in the health department.

The Gophers might get a glimpse of what their team looks like healthy this weekend, as sophomore Carmelina Carabajal returns to the vault Saturday at the Sports Pavilion. Minnesota takes on Iowa at 6 p.m.

Carabajal, the team’s top vaulter, has not competed as an all-arounder since Jan. 13, but is expected to return to the lineup Saturday, giving a boost to the Gophers’ vault team.

“It’s really good for us to get her back,” Ashley Mutchler said. “To get her back in the lineup will be awesome, especially as the anchor of the lineup.”

Carabajal’s return is especially appreciated this week, as senior vaulter Kim Womack has been sidelined with lower back troubles.

Minnesota took another hit to its already-depleted lineup on the uneven bars, as senior Stephanie Funk announced her retirement earlier in the week following an extended absence due to injuries.

Funk was one of the team’s more consistent competitors on bars this season, making the loss a tough one to absorb.

“Stephanie did everything she could to try to resolve her problem, but you have to look out for your athletes beyond what they can do for you competitively,” coach Jim Stephenson said. “Thankfully, since this wasn’t a sudden injury, we have been able to prepare for this situation.”

Whether hampered by injuries, a lack of concentration or bad luck, the Gophers have not had their best meets the last few weeks.

But despite Minnesota’s overall woes, it has found solace in a strong performance on the balance beam two weeks ago, and a quality floor routine last weekend.

“We’re really a good team on both of those events, so right now it’s a matter of consistency in our performance,” Stephenson said. “The critical part of where we are in the season is we can’t absorb more letdowns on these events.”

With a pair of potentially strong events and an improved vault lineup, the Gophers could be in position to push their scores back over the 194-point mark.

And to return to that level, senior Andy Cornelius said, it really comes down to focus.

“Our team has a lot of potential,” she said. “We just need to relax and be confident. We always do better when we aren’t stressed and avoid focusing on outside distractions.”

Men to West Coast

The men’s gymnastics team takes a trip to Oakland, Calif. for the Pacific Coast Classic on Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

After nearly knocking off top-ranked Michigan last week, the Gophers will once again be up against stiff competition, competing with five of the top ten teams in the nation. They will also be trying to top their season-high score of 209.3 that they posted against the Wolverines.

Coach Mike Burns said he is looking forward to the event, as it gives Minnesota a chance to see a championship-style meet midway through the season.

“It’s sort of a preview for what our NCAA tournament will be like,” he said. “It’s going to be pretty exciting.

“In terms of preparation for a championship-style meet, it’s a great opportunity to get one of these under your belt in the middle of the season.”