Gophers get best of Best of Minnesota field

by Mark Heller

It was a night of firsts and one second for Gophers gymnastics.
Minnesota officially opened its season this weekend, hosting the Best of Minnesota with Winona State, Gustavus Adolphus and Hamline. The Gophers won the event with 192.4 total points, edging Winona State’s 178.75.
But because of the scoring format, Minnesota’s real competition wasn’t even in the building.
“We send in our final team score,” Gophers co-coach Jim Stephenson said. “So we’re actually competing against the other Division I schools who competed that night. It’s your score that matters, not win-loss record.”
Nonetheless, 18th-ranked Minnesota had to be encouraged by the results. It was the first collegiate meet for many gymnasts, including Maryanne Kelley, who was the MVP of the meet, winning the all-around, placing third in the floor exercise and balance beam, and fourth in the uneven bars and vault.
“I wasn’t nervous at all and I have no idea why,” Kelley said. “It was something I wasn’t expecting. I really thought (junior) Judy Cavazos was going to win it, but she fell on the vault.
“I used to have three meets a week in high school,” she said, “so I had a lot of experience, and this was just another meet to me.”
The performances of freshmen Katie Christensen, Megan Bueckens and Kelley comes as very little surprise to Stephenson, who said he expects his young squad to get even better.
“This is the most experienced freshman class we’ve had,” Stephenson said. “They’ve all been in many big meets before. We’re extremely encouraged by the performances and potential they have. Thirteen meets from now they’re going to be very good.”
As for the veterans, Cavazos’ 9.90 (out of a possible 10) score on the uneven bars was the second highest score on the bars in school history.
The highest score? Cavazos, at 9.95.
“The first half of my routine was the hardest,” Cavazos said. “I knew I had done pretty well on it, and since the second half was easier, it made it easier for me to finish well.”
But the first real test for the team will come soon. The Gophers travel to Michigan Jan. 15.
“We beat them here early last year,” Stephenson said. “And they were very upset about that. But there would be nothing better than to beat them in their own house.”