Minn. pleased with third-place finish

The Gophers came in as a No. 6 seed and nearly snagged an NCAA bid.

Luke Middendorf

Placing third out of six teams at Saturday’s NCAA North Central Region Championship was not enough to qualify the Minnesota women’s gymnastics team for the NCAA Championship, cutting short an otherwise successful 2008 season.

Although only the top two teams from Saturday move on to the championship, the Gophers – who received the No. 6 seed in the meet – came within .85 points of second place Arkansas and keeping their season alive.

“It’s awesome; we always knew we were better than a sixth seed,” junior Carmelina Carabajal said. “I’m really excited.”

And Carabajal has every reason to be excited, as she’ll be the only Gophers gymnast moving on.

In the all-around, Carabajal tallied a 39.275, just .025 shy of her personal best score. She was the top all-around competitor who was not a part of a team advancing to the NCAA Championship, so she has qualified to compete at the national meet as an individual all-arounder.

“She (Carabajal) is such a great representative of our team,” coach Meg Stephenson said of Carabajal moving on to the NCAA Championship. “Granted, you would love to have it be your team, but at least if you get an individual there and have a presence, that makes a difference.”

Although Minnesota had a slight advantage by hosting the 2008 regional championship in the Sports Pavilion and finished with its third-best score of the season (195.275), it was not enough to overcome two higher-ranked opponents in Utah and Arkansas.

The No. 2-ranked Utes finished with the top score at 196.950, and will join the No. 11-ranked Razorbacks on April 24 for a trip to the NCAA Championship.

“It’s nice to get this one over with, and we can move on to the next big thing,” said senior Ashley Postell, Saturday’s all-around champion from Utah. “That is the one everyone is waiting for.”

Arizona, Southern Utah, and Iowa finished behind Minnesota in Saturday’s meet.

Sophomore Alexis Russell had one of her best performances of the season, tying for second overall in the parallel bars with a 9.825, the highest individual ranking for Minnesota on Saturday.

Russell and Carabajal carried the Gophers in the all-around by finishing ninth and fifth, respectively, and Russell’s total of 39.175 was a career-high.

“Alexis had a great showing tonight and did wonderful on all of her events,” Stephenson said.

Carabajal’s top performance of the night came on the balance beam, tying for third by way of a 9.850. Russell and senior Amanda Miles tied for seventh on the beam, helping Minnesota to its top event score of the night with a 48.975.

Along with Miles, the Gophers will lose seniors Andy Cornelius, Ashley Mutchler and Ashley Stanton next season.

“This has been one of the greatest senior classes we have ever had as far as leadership, commitment and dedication to training,” Stephenson said. “The success you have as a team often reflects your leadership, and the successful season we had confirmed that.”