The women’s gymnastics team is in a familiar place this year as the fourth seed in the Big Ten championships. The team finished in that same spot a year ago.
This year, however, two teams that made it to the podium last year — Illinois and five-time consecutive champion Michigan — are not seeded in the top-four.
That may make a bigger difference this year than in years past.
For the first time, the Big Ten championships will be split into two sessions — evening and afternoon — separated by rankings. The top four seeds will compete in the evening, and the Nos. 5-8 seeds will compete in the earlier session.
“The Big Ten is so strong, especially adding Nebraska to what we already had,” head coach Meg Stephenson said. “We call it the Big Ten national championships because every team is good and on any given day, really, almost any team can win.”
Minnesota finished with 195.325 points in 2011 compared to first-place Michigan’s 196.6. Michigan has suffered from injuries this year and is seeded fifth.
“They’re still a very good team. … We don’t take any team for granted in the Big Ten,” Stephenson said. “I think what it says is that the level of the Big Ten conference of women’s gymnastics is just stronger and stronger all the time, and we’re excited to be in the top half this year going into the championships.”
Kayla Slechta was the stand-out at last years’ championships in her freshman season. She placed seventh in the all-around, third on the vault and tied for fourth on floor exercise.
“[It’s] a little bit easier going into it this time because I know what to expect, and I know what I need to do to perform very well at [the] Big Ten [championships],” Slechta said.
Janell Campbell is the only other Gophers gymnast to return this year that placed in the top-three of an event last year. She tied for third on uneven parallel bars.
The team’s main concern for the conference championships is Dusti Russell’s health. The sophomore sat out the vault and the floor exercise at last weekend’s meet due to a sore ankle. At practice this week, she still sported a full foot boot.
“Basically, it was just kind of a little breather for my foot so that this week I can come in and do everything I need to do to be ready for this weekend,” Russell said.
The Big Ten championships are Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa.
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