Gophers close season by stumbling at NCAA regional

Kent Erdahl

Halfway through Minnesota gymnast Kim Womack’s floor exercise routine, which kicked off the Gophers’ first event at the NCAA North Central Regional Championships over the weekend, the team had reason to be optimistic.

At that point, Womack was in control and executing a solid performance. But in the last portion of her routine, she faulted by stepping out of bounds.

The fault stunned Minnesota, and the team remained out of step throughout the rest of the competition.

The Gophers ended their season with a score of 192.225 at the championships hosted in Denver.

Stanford won the regional with a score of 196.575, Iowa took second (195.700), Denver placed third (195.525), Southern Utah finished fourth (194.375) and Washington placed fifth (194.225).

Co-coach Jim Stephenson said the performance was troubling, especially considering the team’s recent success and good practice sessions leading up to the competition.

“In 12 years, I’ve never seen a team perform so poorly,” Stephenson said. “It is particularly hard because of the talent level on this team.”

Minnesota’s score was easily its lowest tally of the season, and a big reason for that was the number of faults early in the events.

In three of the four team events, the gymnast who led off faulted.

Those mistakes put pressure on the remaining five Minnesota competitors because only one score is thrown out per event.

“We created a situation for ourselves that was very uncomfortable,” Stephenson said. “And we could not resolve that within the time of the event.”

Senior Alicia Opsahl did her best to solve the team’s problems with her own performance.

Opsahl was the Gophers’ top performer overall, placing ninth with a score of 38.975.

“In the midst of disaster, her maturity and composure was very notable,” Stephenson said.

Opsahl tied for third in the floor exercise with a score of 9.875, while junior Carolyn Yernberg was fifth in the event with a mark of 9.850. Opsahl also had the Gophers’ best score on the balance beam with a 9.850 to earn fifth place.

Despite the performance, Opsahl said it is not the way she and fellow seniors Mary Skokut and Carrie Hortsch want to remember their careers.

“I tried to block out everything and do what I had to do,” Opsahl said. “I feel pretty good, but it’s not easy because of the team’s performance.”

Stanford and Iowa will advance to the NCAA Championships on April 15-17 in Los Angeles.

Men finish season

Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team fell short of advancing to the NCAA Championships team finals by finishing fifth in its qualifying session at Champaign, Ill., over the weekend.

California, Ohio State and Illinois all advanced from Minnesota’s session, with Penn State prevailing in the championship finals with a score of 223.350.

Minnesota junior Guillermo Alvarez earned three All-America honors by finishing in the top six in individual event finals.

Alvarez tied for fifth in the all-around with a score of 54.675. He also finished fourth in the floor exercise and sixth in the pommel horse with scores of 9.450 and 9.425, respectively.