Johnson getting help in carrying all-around burden

by Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team hasn’t seen a Big Ten title since 1998, even though they’ve had a solid core of gymnasts each year since.

But the 20th-ranked Gophers hope to get back to the top of the conference this season, and leading the way again is senior all-around competitor Laura Johnson.

And this time around she won’t have to carry the load in every event, with help coming from two sophomore all-around competitors.

“I would say we are ahead of the game for a couple of reasons,” co-coach Jim Stephenson said. “But the most important thing is that we are all healthy. We’re recovered from injuries and ready to go.”

One Gopher who has recovered from an injury suffered last season is sophomore Angela Walker, who competed in the all-around once last season before going down with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Walker made her return to the bars and the beam at the start of the season by posting Minnesota’s third-best beam and fifth-best bar scores this season.

“We aren’t going to rush Angela back into anything,” co-coach Meg Stephenson said. “She suffered a very serious injury and has bounced back from it quickly.”

The Gophers aren’t sure whether or not Walker will return to the all-around competition this season.

For now they will lean on Johnson and sophomore Ashley Mutchler.

And they’ve done a great job leading the Gophers so far this season.

Two weeks ago, Minnesota upset then-No. 7 Penn State 194.175-193.500, and Johnson and Mutchler were raking in the points.

Johnson won three of her four individual events while winning the all-around with a season-best score of 39.100, and Mutchler came in second with a career-best 38.775.

“Our skill level as a team has improved,” Johnson said. “It’s very hard trying to get yourself healthy and ready, but now that we are we’re excited.”

Last season Mutchler did not compete in the all-around. Instead, she competed primarily on the vault, where she won a share of a Big Ten title.

Johnson said she never felt any added pressure being Minnesota’s only all-around competitor but said now that they do have other options they are all-around better.

The Gophers, unbeaten in dual meets, hope to maintain their steady and strong pace this weekend, when they host the Best of Minnesota meet at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Sports Pavilion.

“These guys are like seasoned race horses,” Jim Stephenson said. “The only thing that can stop them from performing is an injury; otherwise, they are going to keep up the pace.”