Gophers women’s gymnastics shines in Athens, advances to NCAA National Championship

The Gophers are heading to the NCAA National Championship for the first time since 2016.

Ona Loper performs her floor routine at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. The Gophers defeated the Michigan State Spartans 196.075 to 194.925.

Jack Rodgers

Ona Loper performs her floor routine at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018. The Gophers defeated the Michigan State Spartans 196.075 to 194.925.

Michael Lyne, Sports Reporter

The No. 8 Gophers women’s gymnastics team put together back-to-back dominating performances over the weekend at the Athens Regional to advance to the NCAA National Championship for the first time since 2016.

“What a rush! We fought all the way to the end and put our hearts on the floor,” senior Lexy Ramler said on Saturday night. “We couldn’t do it without each one of us. When we found out we advanced [to nationals], it was pure joy from all our hard work from this unpredictable year. This is such a special memory in my heart. We are going to nationals!”

Led by Ramler, the Gophers dominated from the beginning of the second round on Friday evening to the end in the regional final on Saturday night. Across both days, the Gophers had a plethora of career-highs from many of their athletes. The team is currently competing at its best, and it could not be coming at a better time.

“We are so proud of the way the team fought until the very end,” Gophers head coach Jenny Hansen said after the team advanced. “We are so excited for our team and this tremendous accomplishment.

Gophers take first place in the second round on Friday evening

Scoring a team total of 197.625, the Gophers earned their second-highest score in program history to take first place in the second round and advance to the Athens Regional Final alongside Denver.

All-around performers Ramler and senior Ona Loper had magnificent evening performances, taking care of business as usual for the Gophers. They combined for a whopping score of 79.325 and collectively took home all of the competition’s event titles.

Ramler won the all-around title by scoring a total of 39.775, the second-highest score in Gophers program history. She also took home the bars and beam titles after scoring 9.950 on both events.

The biggest of moments never seem to faze the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year. Even though Ramler is consistent as ever, she thrives under pressure. She also tied her season-high score on the floor with a 9.925.

Loper is one of the nation’s best vaulters and proved this to be true Friday by earning the vault title after scoring a perfect 10. She has accomplished this feat for the second time this season and the third time in her career.

“Today was so much fun,” Loper said Friday. “Every time I compete with these girls, it reminds me why I love this sport so much. I am so proud of the fight and passion that this team brings.”

Along with earning the vault title, Loper also earned a share of the floor title after an incredible performance that scored her a 9.950, which ties her career-best.

The Gophers got off to a great start after their three seasoned veterans on the beam led the team to score a total of 49.350. Outside of Ramler’s 9.950, Loper scored 9.875 and redshirt senior beam specialist Mary Korlin-Downs scored 9.850. Freshman Emily Koch and junior Tiarre Sales rounded out the Gophers’ beam team lineup, scoring 9.850 and 9.825, respectively.

After the beam team’s impressive start, the Gophers floor team built on the early momentum and did not look back by garnering many personal high scores and scoring a team total of 49.500. Outside of Ramler and Loper, the never failing to be energetic freshman, Mya Hooten, scored 9.900.

Junior Abbie Nylin put up a career performance on the Gophers’ floor team, scoring a career-high 9.850, while sophomore Mallory LeNeave tied her career-best by scoring 9.875.

The Gophers’ vault team continued to feed off the impressive performances from the first two rotations. With the help of Loper’s perfect 10 and Ramler’s 9.950, the vault team tied the program’s second-highest score of 49.525. Hooten tied her career-high 9.900, redshirt sophomore Maddie Quarles scored 9.900 and freshman Gianna Gerdes finished out the event with 9.775.

To seal the first-place finish in the second round, the No. 5 Gophers’ bars team scored a team total of 49.250 and showed why they belong high in the nation’s ranks.

Gophers take second place in the regional final Saturday

Picking up right where they left off Friday, the Gophers scored a team total of 197.425 to finish in second place behind Florida’s 197.700 and advance to the NCAA National Championship.

“They never gave up, they never gave in,” Hansen said. “Day two is harder than day one. But they used their adrenaline and they knew that they could do this. We are just so, so proud of them.”

Ramler followed up her magnificent performances from Friday with many more by scoring a total of 39.675 to finish in second place in the all-around. Week by week, Ramler continues to make a case as to why she should win the AAI Award, which is considered the “Heisman Trophy” of women’s gymnastics.

Opposite of the second round, the Gophers opened up the regional finals with their superb bars team. They once again showed the nation why they are ranked fifth by scoring a total of 49.325 to get the team rolling early in the biggest meet of the season so far.

The seasoned veterans performed well once again for the Gophers. Ramler led the way, scoring 9.925. Senior bars specialist Hannah Willmarth did not disappoint, scoring 9.850. Loper rounded out the vets’ scores by adding 9.825.

After the bars’ team got the Gophers off to a strong start, the beam team put up a tremendous total of 49.500 to put them in the lead after two rotations. Hansen decided to keep the beam lineup the same as it was in the second round.

Ramler anchored for the beam team and scored a massive 9.950 to tie for the individual event title. Korlin-Downs and Sales matched each other’s scores at 9.925, while Koch and senior Lexi Montgomery also tied each other’s scores at 9.850.

After the momentous performance from the beam team, the floor team suffered from two mistakes that dropped the Gophers from first place into third place, heading into the final rotation of the meet even though LeNeave beat her career-high from Friday by scoring 9.925.

When two errors happen in the same event, it is challenging to win meets or make the top two cuts, especially in regionals, because each team can drop only the worst score throughout every event. Two mistakes can be the difference between advancing or not.

The Gophers were now on the outside looking in and needed a huge total from their vault team. They were trailing Denver by 0.100, which can be tough to make up in one rotation.

However, the vault team put up the best score of any Gophers lineup Friday, so Hansen decided to keep the same lineup. All the pressure was now on sophomore Kate Grotenhuis, Gerdes, Hooten, Ramler, Loper and Quarles.

The vault team needed to replicate their performances from Friday to give the Gophers a chance to keep their road to nationals dreams alive. They did just that by posting a team total of 49.450, which was enough to overcome their 0.100 deficit to Denver as the Pioneers made a few costly mistakes in their final rotation on the vault, even though senior Lynnzee Brown scored a perfect 10.

Grotenhuis and Gerdes scored matching 9.850s, which were career-highs for both of them, while Hooten scored an incredible 9.950, which was also a career-high. The young guns for the Gophers put up career performances when their team needed it the most. They shined in one of the most significant moments of their careers.

The duo of Ramler and Loper finished out the miraculous comeback for the Gophers by scoring matching 9.900s.

“We knew where we were, but we also knew what event we were finishing on and we are great on that event [vault],” Hansen said. “We had a lot of confidence and we built those girls up to really believe and go after it on vault. We were just so thrilled with how they finished the night.”

Final results from Athens Regional

First: No. 1 Florida – 197.700

Second: No. 8 Gophers – 197.425

Third: No. 9 Denver – 197.275

Fourth: No. 26 North Carolina State – 196.150

What’s up next

The No. 8 Gophers women’s gymnastics team will take on No. 1 Florida, No. 4 Michigan and No. 5 California in the first semifinal of the NCAA National Championship on Friday, April 16, at 12 p.m. on ESPN 2.

“We can compete with anybody, and I think tonight just reaffirms that,” Hansen said. “When we’re firing on all cylinders, we do think we can compete with anyone in the country.”