The Minnesota women’s gymnastics team battled sickness and soreness at their home opener against Iowa on Saturday, but you wouldn’t know it from their performance.
In just their second meet of the season, the No. 17 Gophers managed to tie their regular-season high score from last year and improved their scores in every event from the season opener at Ohio State with a 195.325-194.825 win over the No. 18 Hawkeyes.
“We had three days of practice,” Gophers head coach Meg Stephenson said, “and a lot of people with the cold that’s going around, but they fought through it all week long and came in here and did the job.”
Freshman Dusti Russell, who was the team’s top scorer on the balance beam and floor exercise against the Buckeyes, continued to be a factor Saturday, again winning the floor exercise with a score of 9.875 and taking second on the balance beam with 9.825.
Russell took third in the all-around category, which does not count toward the team’s total score. She was the only Gopher to compete in all four events at the meet.
Russell’s fellow freshman Kayla Slechta, who won the vault against Ohio State, tied for second in that event Saturday with a score of 9.800 while nursing a sore ankle.
“They’re a great, great group of girls,” senior Kristin Furukawa said of Slechta, Russell and the other three freshmen on the team, “and they’re so strong and all their strengths are so different and so wide and so varied, and it’s just amazing to have that depth within our team again.”
Russell, whose older sister Rehana also competed at Minnesota for Stephenson, said her experience so far with the Gophers has been “amazing,” and that the University of Minnesota was her first choice.
“Once my sister came here and I saw how everybody was here, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to be a Gopher,” Russell said.
On Saturday, Furukawa, who had surgery this summer to repair a torn ligament in her knee, could be seen icing that knee between events. Despite that, Furukawa tied Iowa’s Houry Gebeshian for first place in the uneven parallel bars with a score of 9.850.
She would have had an even stronger night if not for an uncharacteristic misstep on the balance beam.
“It’s pretty unusual for any one of us to slip up like that … It’s definitely motivation to get back in the gym on Monday and work your butt off to make it better for the next time around,” Furukawa said.
In the floor exercise, Lucy Ennis and Shannon Golich both achieved personal bests, while Russell’s 9.875 was the highest any Gopher has scored in any event this year.
Coming into Saturday, the GymInfo national top 25 featured five Big Ten teams, including the Gophers. Stephenson said she is confident and excited about her team’s conference prospects.
“The Big Ten is always good, but this year they are particularly good,” Stephenson said. “So [the Big Ten] meet on March 19 is just going to be an incredible competition and people will really be, I think, very impressed with the level of gymnastics they’re going to see … and that’s fun.”
Men finish third in Chicago
While the women were racking up points against Iowa, the Gophers men’s team was competing at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago. They took third place out of six teams with a combined score of 340.7.
Individual highlights included a sixth-place all-around score of 82.0 for junior D.J. Repp, a third-place 14.6 in parallel bars for junior Adam LaFleur — who was competing in that event for the first time — and a seventh-place finish on the rings for senior Travis Heaver with a score of 14.2.
The meet was the regular season opener for the men, whose first competition of the year was the annual Alumni Meet at the University’s Sports Pavilion.
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