Minnesota uses toughness to overcome woes

The Gophers have been bitten by the injury bug many times this season.

Minnesota's Kayla Slechta competes on bars March 9, 2013, in a quad meet at the Sports Pavilion.

Daily File Photo, Bridget Bennett

Minnesota’s Kayla Slechta competes on bars March 9, 2013, in a quad meet at the Sports Pavilion.

David Nelson

As junior Cierra Tomson went down with a back injury moments before her routine at the Big Ten championships, the women’s gymnastics team was thrust into a season-defining moment.

Minnesota needed to replace four routines before the start of the meet.

Some teams might have crumpled, but the two gymnasts who replaced Tomson performed admirably, helping the Gophers to finish third in the team standings.

“I think our backups were prepared to step in,” senior Kayla Slechta said. “We went into [it] like it was nothing … and it worked out really well.”

Minnesota has been forced to respond to adversity time and time again this season.

The Gophers have been without sophomore Hanna Nordquist since late February, and Tomson’s tweaked upper back at the conference meet added yet another name to the injury report.

Still, amid the many setbacks, Minnesota has seemed unfazed, capable of an answer.

“It really has tested our strength as a team,” sophomore Lindsay Mable said. “I think we’ve overcome quite a few adversities this year. And little or big things, we’ve shown each other and the rest of the world that we can conquer it.”

Slechta called her teammates “fighters” because of the way they’ve overcome hardships.

And while the Gophers went through their share of misfortune, this weekend could play in their favor, as Nordquist and Tomson could return Saturday night.

“Hanna Nordquist is working out, and Cierra gets better everyday,” head coach Meg Stephenson said. “We have three practices this week, and we’re just going to play it day by day.”

And even if the Gophers don’t get Nordquist and Tomson back for the NCAA regional, they’ve proven that they have the depth to overcome problems no matter the stage.

“We’re really lucky to have a lot of depth on the team so that if something like that is to happen, we don’t have to worry about it,” Mable said. “You know that the other people are prepared.”

This weekend, the Gophers will need that preparation to reach a different level when they host the NCAA regional Saturday.

Oklahoma, Illinois, California, Southern Utah and San Jose State will join the Gophers at the competition. Those teams will be vying for one of the top two spots in the competition — the top two teams will advance.

“We know everybody in the regional … is good,” Stephenson said. “I don’t think we take anyone for granted.”

Since the turn of the century, the Gophers have qualified for the team portion of the NCAA meet only twice.

Slechta said she and her teammates aren’t intimidated by any of the teams this weekend.

“We all believe that we are top one or two,” Slechta said. “And I think just having that belief gives us extra confidence going into the meet.

“We’re ready to grow on and keep building upon what we did last weekend and to prove to everyone … that we can make [it] to nationals for a second time. It wasn’t just a fluke.”