Women finish fourth at regional; Johnson makes NCAA meet

Minnesota was happy with a fourth-place finish, but a fall on beam cost it points.

Emily Wickstrom

It was not as disappointing as last year, when Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team scored its season low and finished sixth.

So the Gophers felt they had a lot to be proud of in their fourth-place finish and 193.975 score at the NCAA North Central Regional Championships on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

“We were really excited about the team overall and how we did,” co-coach Meg Stephenson said. “Compared to how we did last year, we were thrilled. It was a huge improvement.”

As expected, top-ranked Utah won the meet with a score of 196.800. Brigham Young scored 196.975 to place second and qualify along with Utah for the NCAA Championships.

Oregon State scored 195.675 to place third. Southern Utah (193.450) and Iowa (192.350) rounded out the region in fifth and sixth, respectively.

Minnesota had to count a fall on balance beam, which brought down its score. But Stephenson said the team still would have struggled to qualify for nationals even without the fall.

“Utah was phenomenal, and BYU had a fantastic meet – possibly their best of the year,” Stephenson said. “We really had some tough competition.”

The Gophers performed the best on floor exercise, scoring a 49.150 to place second as a team on the event. Senior Carolyn Yernberg tied for third with a score of 9.900.

Junior Laura Johnson finished fourth in the all-around, scoring 39.150 to be the only Minnesota gymnast to qualify for the NCAA Championships.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Johnson said. “I just tried to do my job, and I hit all of my four routines. I just got lucky, and I get to go.”

Johnson was Minnesota’s top performer on both the bars and beam, with scores of 9.800 and 9.700, respectively.

“We are just thrilled that Laura qualified,” Stephenson said. “She really beat some tough competition.”

Alvarez an All-American

Though Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team fell short of qualifying for the NCAA Championships on Thursday, coach Mike Burns said he had a lot to be happy about after his team’s performance in West Point, N.Y.

“We had our top score of the year and our highest hit percentage,” Burns said. “It was our best performance of the year, and I was very proud. I think they made a great statement about what is going on with the Minnesota program.”

The Gophers finished fifth in their session Thursday, scoring 217.400.

Oklahoma went on to win the NCAA Championships on Friday, scoring 225.675.

In the all-around finals Friday, senior Guillermo Alvarez earned All-America honors by placing fourth with a score of 55.650. Sophomore Jake Lee finished 12th with a score of 52.825.

Alvarez was the only Minnesota gymnast to advance to the event finals, and he placed second on both the vault and pommel horse with scores of 9.400 and 9.762, respectively.

After a meet-high and school-record 9.950 in the floor preliminaries, Alvarez failed to match his performance in the finals and tied for eighth with a score of 9.025.

“He was extremely disappointed, realizing he could have won,” Burns said. “It’s a real shame. That’s what happens in sports. There’s moments of glory and moments when you don’t have glory.”

Before the competition, Alvarez was honored with the 2005 Nissen-Emery Award, given to the nation’s outstanding senior gymnast.

“He obviously has the total package, and it couldn’t go to a nicer guy,” Burns said. “I heard so many great comments about how great a gymnast he is and how great he is to watch.”