Men and women beat ranked teams

Both the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams beat ranked opponents in home meets over the weekend.

by Andrew Baker

The No. 9 Gophers menâÄôs gymnastics team earned its highest score of the year in a 345.6-331.3 victory over No. 11 Air Force on Friday at the Sports Pavilion.

Freshman Zack Chase posted the high score of the evening, 16.1, on the vault. In the floor exercise, junior Adam LaFleur earned a score of 15.0, the highest of the evening in that event.

Despite a few hiccups, head coach Mike Burns said he was encouraged by the improvement he has seen in his team.

After losing their first dual meet of the year, a Jan. 29 contest at Oklahoma, the Gophers âÄî who entered the weekend ranked in the top 10 nationally in every event âÄî have now won their last two.

âÄúOverall I was pretty pleased with the effort tonight,âÄù Burns said in an interview with âÄúScores are not as critical to me as the percentage of hit routines and that was probably the number one highlight in my book tonight.âÄù

Minnesota was without sophomore Harris Coleman, who went down with a shoulder injury Feb. 11 against Iowa.

At the time, Coleman was ranked No. 13 in the country on the pommel horse. In his absence, though, his teammates have stepped up.

On Friday, the Gophers took home the top three scores in the pommel horse: freshmen John Scallon and Steffen Beck placed second and third, respectively, with senior Michael Hillin winning the event.

Minnesota gymnasts earned the top scores in five of the eveningâÄôs six events.

Air ForceâÄôs Nash Mills was the only athlete to compete in the all-around, earning a score of 81.7.

The Gophers have four regular season meets remaining, only one of which will be at home.

Women blow past Iowa State on blustery afternoon

Coming off a season-high performance at the Best of Minnesota meet last weekend, the No. 15 Gophers womenâÄôs gymnastics team showed no signs of a hangover Sunday.

At home against No. 23 Iowa State with a winter storm raging outside, Minnesota topped the Cyclones, winning three out of four events en route to a 195.6-194.95 victory.

âÄúOur Gopher fans are unbelievable for trudging out in this weather,âÄù head coach Meg Stephenson said. âÄúI think all the girls realized that [the fans] had gone out of their way to come here and even though there were only 600 of them, they really wanted to put on a good show for them.âÄù

Official attendance was 672 and the show was a collective effort, as has been the case all season for the Gophers.

Freshman Kayla Slechta continued to dominate, winning the vault and the floor exercise with a score of 9.875 in each event.

Shannon Golich won the balance beam with a score of 9.85 and tied for second place with the same score in the floor exercise, while Lucy Ennis won the uneven bars with a score of 9.85.

In addition to the fans who braved the elements to attend, the Gophers also received a morale boost from the return of injured gymnasts Justine Cherwink and Dusti Russell.

Cherwink, a freshman who was sidelined in November by a torn Achilles tendon suffered in practice, made her first appearance as a Gopher, performing an exhibition routine on the uneven bars.

Russell, also a freshman, had been out since Jan. 18 with an injured elbow and earned a score of 9.8 in an exhibition performance on balance beam. That score would have tied for the GophersâÄô second-best of the night on beam, had it counted. (Exhibition scores do not affect the teamâÄôs overall score.)

âÄúIt is very, very encouraging,âÄù Golich said of seeing Cherwink and Russell back in action. âÄúTheyâÄôre coming back so fast and so strong âĦ and itâÄôs awesome to see.âÄù

At the Best of Minnesota, senior Kristin Furukawa won the uneven bars and posted a beam score of 9.925, which tied the sixth-best score in Gophers history in that event.

On Sunday though, Furukawa âÄî who has been nursing a sore knee since having surgery on it in August âÄî faltered on the beam and scored a 9.75 on the uneven bars, down from 9.85 the week before.

On Friday, the Gophers will head to the West Coast to face Cal State Fullerton. While there, FurukawaâÄôs grandparents will try to give the team an edge with some home cooking on the road in the form of a sushi meal.