West Virginia win boosts U gymnasts

by David La

At this point in the gymnastics season, the Gophers women could easily look ahead to their defense of the Big Ten title on March 27 at Michigan State.
Credit No. 14 West Virginia’s arrival Friday at the Sports Pavilion for keeping Minnesota’s feet on the ground. The No. 11 Gophers lost to the Mountaineers on Feb. 20, but won the rematch thanks to their ability to keep their feet on the balance beam.
“(The) beam has been the thing that either makes us or breaks us right now,” freshman MaryAnne Kelley said. “When we were at West Virginia, I think we had to count three falls, so obviously that’s going to hurt your team score.”
Senior Cathy Keyser, the 1998 Big Ten champion on the balance beam, anchored the event with a season-high score of 9.9.
The performances of Keyser and Kelley, who won the all-around competition, helped Minnesota to the 194.375-189.875 win.
Friday’s meet was the first at home for the Gophers since Feb. 13, when the rigors of the season began to have an effect on the team.
“We passed over that hump in the season … when everyone is really tired and you feel stuck,” Keyser said. “I think our team is peaking at the right time, right before Big Tens.”
Minnesota will need to be at its peak to overcome a strong Big Ten conference field this year, with Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State all ranked in the top 10.
“Never before has the Big Ten been this strong,” co-head coach Jim Stephenson said. “We could have this meet one day and one team could win. We could have it the next day and a different team could win.”
Even in the face of some daunting parity, Stephenson said his athletes are not fazed by the wealth of teams poised to win the title.
“They’re very selfish about competition because they think they’re the only team out there,” Stephenson said. “I think when you can do that, you’ve eliminated some variables that could stress you out or cause you to lose focus.”
The Gophers close out the regular season on Sunday, hosting No. 23 Denver. Then it’s on to the title defense at the Big Ten championships, where Minnesota hopes to beat the field with performances that will stand out on the national level.
“Winning is great and we want to win,” Co-head coach Meg Stephenson said. “But equally important is that we get a score that ensures our berth in the NCAA regional championships.”