Gophers to take on second-ranked Utes

by Michael Dougherty

It is as though Gophers women’s gymnastic co-head coaches Jim and Meg Stephenson are standing at the base of Mount Everest, looking up as second-ranked Utah stands on the highest point in the world and trying to knock the Utes off in some wicked version of king of the hill.
Surprisingly, however, the Stephensons are brimming with confidence as their team travels to Salt Lake City to go giant-killing.
The ninth-ranked Gophers head into tonight’s contest coming off of a big win against Utah State last weekend in which they set a season-high for team point total with a 194.000.
“We think we have a team that we can take back to Utah and beat them,” Jim Stephenson said.
The Stephensons, who came to Minnesota six years ago, were assistants under current Utah head coach Greg Marsden for four seasons and are excited to return with an upset on their minds.
“You know the fans back there remember us, and it’s a good relationship between the two teams,” Meg Stephenson said.
But despite having confidence in their team, the Stephensons know the scales tip heavily in favor of Utah.
On their side, the Utes have 10 national championships, including back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995.
They also have Shannon Bowles, who Jim Stephenson considers one of the top gymnasts in the country. Bowles is coming off last weekend’s victory over Brigham Young, having scored a perfect 10.0 on the balance beam en route to a 39.600 first place finish in the all-around.
But the most important, and perhaps the most intimidating factor, is the fact that Utah won 142 home meets in a row at the Huntsman Center.
Jim Stephenson calls it, “The premier gymnastics arena at the collegiate level.”
Along with exceptional facilities and a successful team comes a loyal fan base.
“There will probably be between 10,000 and 15,000 people there,” Meg Stephenson said.
Senior Mindy Knaeble, who competed at the Huntsman Center when she was a freshman, complimented the Utah fans, saying they cheer for good performances on both sides.
Despite the overpowering advantage Utah has, the meet will not be determined by its championships, winning streak or fans.
Instead, it will be determined solely by the competition — and that is where the Gophers feel they can keep up.
Like Minnesota, Utah has only one loss on the season and that came on the road against Michigan — a team the Gophers easily defeated the week before.
Jim Stephenson said he is confident because the squad had some very good practices this week and also because his group of seniors, led by Knaeble, are familiar with the arena and the surroundings.