Gophers fighting to keep season alive

by Mark Heise

The Minnesota women’s gymnastics team has developed a reputation of bouncing back this season.

And the Gophers will need to do just that to keep their season alive after a disappointing last meet at the Big Ten Championship.

Minnesota competes in the North Central Regional Championships at 7 p.m. on Saturday in Denver, needing a strong score to find a way into the NCAA Championships.

“I think everyone is ready to go,” senior Kelly Ganchan said. “We’ve had a few tough meets like that one, and our team hasn’t given up yet. We look at it like we have another opportunity to show that we’re better than some of our meets have shown.”

The Gophers go up against Georgia, Penn State, Denver, BYU and Utah State, and they’ll need to finish in the top two to extend their season one more meet.

Georgia, the defending national champion, is statistically the strongest team in the region. The Bulldogs topped out at 198 this season, over two points ahead of Minnesota’s top score.

Penn State’s top finish of 196.825 is one point ahead of the Gophers, while Denver and BYU are both ranked ahead of Minnesota.

But while they remain heavy underdogs for the meet, the Gophers still have some advantages in a consistently strong floor routine. Coach Meg Stephenson called the inconsistent beam lineup a strength.

“If they can perform the way we know they have the ability to perform, we can put up some great scores,” she said. “We definitely have the talent, so now it’s just a matter of being healthy and hitting the routines.”

Minnesota struggled on balance beam at the Big Ten Championship, leading to one of its lowest scores of the season. But when the Gophers hit five solid routines in the event, their scores have sky-rocketed.

“Ask any coach and they’ll tell you that beam can win or lose a meet because teams generally struggle with that event the most,” sophomore Carmelina Carabajal said. “But I think it really depends on the situation. Is beam important? It obviously is, but then again so is everything else.”

There is no doubt that in order for Minnesota to pull off an upset, the beam routines will have to be impressive. But as crucial as the balance beam is for the team, it will not be the focus come Saturday.

“Our goal is to just go in and make sure we put together a solid meet,” Ganchan said. “We aren’t pressuring ourselves to win or even take top two, we just want to take care of our jobs, and let the rest work itself out. We’re feeling pretty good about this weekend.”