At home, women place fourth at Big Ten meet

by Kent Erdahl

Many cheers echoed through the Sports Pavilion when Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team hosted the Big Ten Championships on Saturday.

“Every tenth” was one common phrase used by fans to encourage the gymnasts, and it was particularly fitting on a day when four teams were separated by only six-tenths of a point.

In the end, Michigan won its sixth-consecutive championship by more than a point with a score of 197.8.

Penn State (196.625), Iowa (196.5), Minnesota (196.325) and Michigan State (196.025) all finished extremely close in the race for second place.

The Gophers’ fourth-place finish and high team score was important because it virtually locked the team into a spot for a NCAA regional meet.

“We don’t think we could have done a better job,” co-coach Jim Stephenson said.

Despite the strong overall performance, the team found itself sixth out of seven teams after beginning with its lowest score of the meet on the balance beam.

“I think it’s a hard event to start on,” co-coach Meg Stephenson said. “We were a little bit tentative.

“After (the beam) was over we talked to the girls and said ‘don’t hold back, let it rip out there.’ “

The Gophers rebounded on the floor exercise, posting their highest score of the meet.

Carolyn Yernberg led the way, placing third in the event with a 9.925, and Alicia Opsahl finished fourth with a 9.9.

“Our team loves doing the floor (exercise),” Yernberg said. “We just got really pumped up, and after floor we were on a roll.”

Minnesota continued with a solid performance on the vault, which again featured Yernberg, who earned another third-place finish with a 9.9.

The Gophers needed a strong performance in the uneven bars to stay in the top four. But after a fall in the third routine, extra pressure fell on the shoulders of Opsahl and Mary Skokut.

The two seniors responded with 9.9s in their final routines at the Sports Pavilion.

“When there’s a miss, you just have to focus so hard, because you know your score is going to count,” Skokut said. “I didn’t have time to think about things like ‘oh no, it’s my last performance at home.’ “

The 9.9s earned Opsahl and Skokut a tie for fourth place, and propelled Opsahl to fourth place in the all-around.

“I felt like maybe I was dreaming,” she said. “I never expected to place in the all-around before. I’m really satisfied.”

The dramatic finish put Minnesota ahead of higher-ranked Michigan State. But the performance did not surprise the Gophers.

“We really believe we have a better team than our ranking,” Jim Stephenson said. “I think in any regional meet, we’re going to be able to beat some teams that are ranked above us.”

Opsahl, Skokut and sophomore Laura Johnson were named to the All-Big Ten first team. Yernberg was named to the second team.

Men finish sixth

Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team finished sixth overall at the Big Ten Championships with a score of 213.275.

Illinois won the team title (221.975), while Penn State placed second (220.100), Ohio State took third (218.425), Iowa finished fourth (216.800) and Michigan was fifth (216.375).

The Gophers had the second-highest finish on pommel horse among conference teams with a score of 36.875. They were fourth on vault with a score of 36.850.

Individually, the Gophers were led by junior Guillermo Alvarez. Alvarez finished fifth in the all-around with a score of 54.050. Alvarez had the Gophers’ highest score in every event except the parallel bars. The Denver native finished sixth on the pommel horse with a score of 9.525. Alvarez also gave the Gophers another top-10 performance on the vault with a 9.325 to place ninth.

Freshman Jacob Lee was named the Big Ten’s male freshman of the year following his performances at the meet.