Gymnastics teams prep for conference meets

Sam Campanaro

Going into the Big Ten Championship meet, the Minnesota women’s gymnastics team doesn’t really have a clue.

Coach Jim Stephenson said he can’t estimate where his team will end up. The Gophers finished 2-2 in the Big Ten and they haven’t seen Ohio State or Michigan State yet.

If national rankings hold true, No. 21 Minnesota should finish fourth behind No. 10 Michigan, the 14th-ranked Buckeyes and No. 17 Iowa.

“This is going to be the closest competition that we’ve had in recent years,” Stephenson said.

Illinois hosts the meet, which will take place Saturday.

The Gophers will also have several freshmen competing, rookies who haven’t quite grasped the caliber of the event yet.

The freshmen are trying to keep the pressure off by thinking of the Big Ten championships as any other meet.

“We’ve all been to big competitions before as individuals,” Laura Johnson said. “It will be more fun to go at it as a team.”

The freshmen have been

competing and producing quality results for Minnesota throughout the the season, and drawing from such experience will be beneficial.

Johnson has been an all-around competitor for the last nine meets and has competed in every meet this season. She has the best chance of the freshmen to place at Big Tens.

Erin Murphy, a vault specialist, has competed in that event every meet this season as well as the bars for the last nine meets.

Maria Opsahl has contributed on the beam and floor. Kelly Stout just started competing on vault, along with Nicole Yunker on the beam and floor.

Veterans who are expected to place well include Mary Skokut on the bars and beam, Jenny Alf on beam and floor, and Carolyn Yernberg on vault and floor.

Men’s gymnastics

Guillermo Alvarez and Clay Strother lead the way for Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team as the Gophers begin competition today in the Big Ten championship meet at Ohio State.

Alvarez is coming off a career-best regular season. He set his personal best scores in four of seven events this season and also set his highest all-around score.

Alvarez is hoping to place in the top three on the floor, vault and pommel horse.

Alvarez’s top competition on the horse and floor will most likely come from his teammate Strother.

Strother, a four-time national champion, is hoping for an all-around title as well as individual titles on floor and pommels.

He is striving for the one championship title missing from his collegiate repertoire – a Big Ten title.

In order to place well, the seventh-ranked Gophers will also need strong performances from their supporting cast.

Ryan Fleming, Mitch Griffin, Tim Koehler and Gabe Suarez are all expected to hit their respective routines to help the team out.

These four men have continually improved throughout the season, leaving the Gophers on an upswing going into the Big Ten meet.

“We should be at our best of the year,” coach Fred Roethlisberger said. “We’ve got a pretty good chance to be in the top three.”

The Gophers’ main challengers are Penn State and Ohio State. Minnesota has not competed against the second-ranked Lions and the third-ranked Buckeyes will have home-gym advantage.

Plus there’s the added pressure of Big Tens.

“You’ve got six teams screaming and hollering,” Strother said. “It’s different than any regular dual meet; it’s really intense.”