Women’s gymnasts cap home season with win

Michael Dougherty

Hollywood could not have written a better script about Friday’s Senior Night for the Gophers women’s gymnastics team.
The 18th-ranked Gophers avenged an early season loss to No. 13 Iowa State when they recorded their second-highest score of the year, topping the Cyclones 194.450-193.025.
But it was the final performance of the night that brought to mind a movie ending, when All-American senior Mindy Knaeble turned in what many thought was a perfect routine.
Knaeble tied her career high on the floor exercise with a 9.925, but the crowd and her teammates were all hoping for the elusive perfect 10.
“They’ve never given a 10 at Minnesota before,’ Knaeble said. “I think they’re just nervous to give that first one out.”
Co-head coach Jim Stephenson hoped for the 10 also, but honestly noted there were two slight miscues that cost Knaeble the perfect score.
“It was undoubtedly one of the finest performances that ever occurred in the Pavilion by Minnesota or any other team,” Stephenson said.
Knaeble’s score capped off the second-best floor exercise in team history, as both Judith Cavazos and senior Kim Sveum tied season highs with a 9.9 and 9.825, respectively. Fellow senior Mindy Myhre tied her second-highest score on the floor with a 9.825, as the Gophers totaled a 49.2 on the event.
Both Knaeble and Myhre overcame the expected nerves and emotions that Senior Night can bring.
“Everything you’ve done in your 16 years, or however long you’ve been in gymnastics, you just want to shine right at this moment,” Myhre said.
“It was very nerve-wracking,” Knaeble added. “You feel pressure that you just want to do your best.”
Knaeble took two titles, as she set season highs on both the floor and the balance beam (9.9). Sveum tied for the title on the vault with a 9.75, and Melissa Chang’s 9.75 on the uneven bars tied Iowa State’s Michelle Hladky for the title.
Seniors Lacey Purkat and Molly Umland each scored a 9.7 on the bars, which tied them for third. Fellow senior Stacey Batza shared second on the vault with Shanyn Lancaster, as each scored a 9.675.
When asked what his squad needs to improve on as it prepares to head to Iowa City, Iowa for next weekend’s Big Ten championships, Stephenson said:
“Not really a whole lot. We are moving along at a really good pace and all we want to do is add a little more energy to what we have.”
But Stephenson’s coaching partner and wife Meg noted that energy could be a bit dangerous.
“We had to calm them down when they came out,” Meg Stephenson said. “I reminded them that they had another hour to go before the meet started.”
The Gophers have topped the 193.8 mark in five of the last six meets, and Meg Stephenson attributes that to the team’s consistency.
“That’s the fourth meet in a row where we haven’t counted a fall,” she said. “And that’s really important when you get to regionals and nationals, because if you fall you’re done.”
After a second place-finish in last year’s Big Tens, both the coaches and the gymnasts agree that they have the talent to dethrone Michigan and capture the Big Ten title. Minnesota defeated the second-ranked Wolverines earlier this year, 192.8-190.4.
Jim Stephenson said he thinks the only thing that can stop his squad is themselves.
“We’re kind of an unstoppable thing right now, and that’s a nice feeling,” he said. “We’re moving high speed on a wire, and we’ve got really good balance.”