The fourth-seeded Minnesota women’s gymnastics team entered the Big Ten championships without much outward expectation.
That may have changed when the Gophers led the top half of the eight-team meet at the halfway point Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa.
Minnesota “started off with a bang,” head coach Meg Stephenson said, but finished in third place.
The Gophers scored 195.95 points to Ohio State’s 196.225 and first-place Nebraska’s 197.1.
Minnesota’s first two rotations on floor exercise and vault were enough to catapult it to the top spot by 0.175 points.
Falls on the uneven parallel bars and the balance beam along with a solid final two rotations from Nebraska and Ohio State bumped the team down to bronze.
“We had a great meet tonight, but we can do better,” Stephenson said. “There are still little things we can fix.”
Amber Hammerschmidt was the lone Gophers gymnast to make the All-Championship team. She placed third in a tie with 9.85 points on the balance beam, her only event.
The senior’s personal record came at a time when the team needed it. Lucy Ennis fell off the beam just before Hammerschmidt’s routine.
“I just wanted to go in and make everything happen,” Hammerschmidt said. “I wanted to hit it for the team.”
A few of Hammerschmidt’s teammates also placed in the top-10 of their events. Kayla Slechta tied for sixth on the vault with a 9.9. Janell Campbell tied for fourth on the floor exercise with 9.875 points.
Dusti Russell overcame an ankle injury to also crack the top-10 on the floor exercise with an eighth-place tie at 9.85. She competed on all events and placed 13th in the all-around event.
The Gophers have two weeks to prepare for the April 7 NCAA regional championships. They will not know their seed until the selection show Monday afternoon.
Hammerschmidt said taking third “is a great accomplishment for us, and we know we can still do better, here, coming for regionals.”
Minnesota’s third-place finish this year was its best since 2006, when the team won the Big Ten championships.
Men finish second in home tri-meet
The Minnesota men’s gymnastics team chased the 350-point mark all season and finally broke it at its last home meet of the year.
The No. 5 Gophers placed second in a tri-meet with 350.6 points. No. 1 Oklahoma won with 353.1 points, and No. 6 Ohio State came in third with 344.5 points.
“It’s been a long season,” head coach Mike Burns said. “We’ve been pushing hard every week, and we finally broke the 350 barrier.”
The new season-high score in the regular-season closer sets the team up well for postseason action.
“This was an amazing confidence builder,” Burns said. “To finish the dual-meet season with our highest score, highest hit-percentage prior to going to Big Ten [championships], that’s how it should be.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” he added.
The meet was especially memorable for the seniors on senior night. Travis Heaver, Ross Cameratta, Russell Dabritz, Jesse Moravec and DJ Repp were all honored with the outstanding performance award.
Adam LaFleur is also a senior but will take advantage of his fifth-year eligibility to compete next season. Moravec had a fifth year as well but decided not to return.
Repp is one of the six finalists for the Nissen Emery Award. This award is the highest honor in college gymnastics given each year to a senior.
“It’s the Heisman [Trophy] of gymnastics,” Repp said. “I’m kind of speechless. I didn’t really expect it, but I’m going to take it as it is and hopefully give it my best shot to win. There’s some tough competition, and only the best guys get nominated for that so it’s really an honor.”
Repp placed second in a tie with Oklahoma’s Patrick Piscitelli on the vault with a 15.2. Minnesota teammate Zack Chase won with a 15.3.
Dabritz placed first on the still rings with a 15.2. Dabritz was also second on the parallel bars at 15.1. Steve Jaciuk’s 14.8 followed in a third-place tie with Ohio State’s Misha Koudinov.
Jaciuk and Dabritz swapped places on the high bar. Jaciuk finished second with 14.6 points. Dabritz tied Oklahoma’s William Clement in third with a 14.5.
The men compete April 6-7 at the Big Ten championships in Iowa City, Iowa.
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