Third-ranked Utah stuns U’s women gymnasts

The seventh-ranked Minnesota women’s gymnastics team had a long flight home Friday after losing badly to No. 3 Utah 196.600-190.925 in front of nearly 8,000 fans in Salt Lake City.
The Gophers lost all four events in what co-head coach Jim Stephenson called the worst performance of any Minnesota gymnastics team in the last six years.
“It was an embarassment for a great program,” he said. “We feel that we have the most gifted team Minnesota has ever had.”
Minnesota seemed startled at the outset when the team’s first three gymnasts fell in the uneven bars. They lost the event 49.325-46.975 and were unable to recover in the later events. It was the team’s worst score in any event this season.
Stephenson said the fans and local media, including Utah television stations, may have been overwhelming for his squad.
“The atmosphere was unlike any we had experienced this season,” he said.
Both Stephenson and his wife and Gophers co-head coach Meg Stephenson are former Utah coaches.
Sophomore Theresa Kulikowski had a stellar meet for the Utes, winning the uneven bars (9.95), balance beam (9.95) and floor exercise (9.925). Kulikowski is the defending NCAA all-around and balance beam champion.
Theresa Wolf won the vault for Utah (9.825) and finished second in the all-around (38.575) behind Kulikowski (39.525). The Utes held the top three spots in three of the four events.
“We may have been competing with this year’s national champions,” Jim Stephenson said. “They use their environment to scare their opponents.”
Not all the Gophers were scared, however.
Sophomore MaryAnne Kelley scored a season-high 9.75 on the vault, placing fourth. It was the first time she stuck her handspring in a meet. The fans didn’t bother her.
“I love huge crowds so it had no effect on me,” she said. “I feel really powerful and explosive this year.”
The Gophers strongest event of the day was the floor excercise, where they scored 48.400. Sophomore Megan Beuckens tied for fifth in the event (9.80).
While Beuckens and the Gophers were strong in the floor exercise, the Gophers’ problems can be traced to that first event.
“When the first three people fell it made us a little nervous,” she said. “Everyone’s going to put this meet behind them.”
Minnesota’s highest finisher was freshman Kelly Watson, who tied for third on the balance beam (9.80).
Jim Stephenson said he gathered the team together after two events, when he and the coaches tried to redirect the squad in a “really abrupt manner.”
“As dismal as this performance was, it was an educational experience for us,” he said.
Minnesota was ranked as high as fourth earlier this year and is in the middle of a tough block of road meets. The Gophers lost at home to then third-ranked Michigan on Jan. 15.
Minnesota continues its road swing this weekend when they travel to Denver to face the Pioneers. The Gophers’ next home meet is on Feb. 12, when they host Hamline, Gustavus and Winona State.