This week: Cancun Classic
The Gophers will kick off the season with a trip to Mexico for the fifth annual Cancun Classic on January 4. Minnesota will be one of eight collegiate teams at the meet. The college teams have been split into two groups and will compete in two sessions on Friday. In the first college session along with the Gophers are LSU, Texas Women’s University, and Denver.
In addition to the colleges and universities, the meet also features a club competition for Junior Olympic athletes.
Coming up Next Week: Intrasquad Meet
Minnesota will return from the Cancun Classic to host its annual Intrasquad Meet on Jan. 12. The meet will begin at 6 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion.
For the exhibition competition, the Gopher squad will be split into two teams. At the end of the meet, the top five individual scores overall will be combined to tally the team score.
Up Against the Best
Minnesota continues the tradition of scheduling tough competition, as 14 of the Gophers’ 16 Division I opponents in the upcoming season advanced to an NCAA Regional Championship in 2007. Three teams that Minnesota will face in 2008 were top 10 national finishers in 2007, as Utah was the NCAA runner up, LSU finished seventh, and Oklahoma finished eighth at the national meet. The Big Ten Conference had five teams finish the 2007 season among the nation’s top 20, and looks to be strong again in the coming season.
Senior Amanda Miles has been elected team captain for the 2008 season. Miles also served as team captain as a junior last season.
Lots of New Faces
Minnesota has added five new gymnasts to the team for the 2008 season. The Gophers’ group of newcomers includes Ana Balboa (Monterrey, Mexico), Kendra Elm (Plymouth, Minn.), Kristin Furukawa (Pomona, Calif.), Julie Kinal (Tempe, Ariz.), and Yuri Nagai (Maryville, Tenn.).
The last time the Gophers added five freshmen in one season was in 2004, when Andy Cornelius, Stephanie Funk, Kelly Ganchan, Ashley Stanton, and Kim Womack joined Minnesota’s team.
With the addition of Ana Balboa (Mexico) and Yuri Nagai (Japan), Minnesota has two international gymnasts.
Balboa is Minnesota’s second gymnast from Mexico. Judy Cavazos (1997-2000) also hailed from Monterrey, Mexico. Balboa and Cavazos both trained at Elite Gymnastics under coach Adriana Porte.
Nagai is a native of Japan, but attended high school in Maryville, Tenn. She is the first Japanese gymnast to compete for the Gophers.
The last time Minnesota had two international gymnasts on the team was in 2000 when Judy Cavazos and Kelly Watson (Brampton, Ontario, Canada) were on the squad.
Season Preview by Event
Minnesota returns five vault performers from last year, including the top two vaulters from 2007 in Carmelina Carabajal and Alexis Russell.
Sophomore Alexis Russell owned three of the Gophers’ top five vault scores last season, including the team best of 9.9, which she earned against Washington (3/10). Russell won or tied for first on vault twice in 2007, and was the top Gopher scorer on vault five times during the year.
Junior Carmelina Carabajal is also a top vaulter for Minnesota. Carabajal competed on vault seven times in 2007, scoring at least a 9.8 six times. Her best score of 9.85 was scored twice, against Washington (3/10) and at Utah State (3/17). Carabajal was the team leader on vault four times, including the Big Ten Championships, and had the team’s best average vault score for the year.
Junior Jade Beattie was Minnesota’s top vault scorer at two meets last season. She has upgraded her vault to a 10.0 start value for the 2008 season.
Senior Ashley Mutchler has been a consistent vaulter for Minnesota throughout her career. She is the only current team member to hold an individual Big Ten title, as the 2005 Big Ten Co-Champion on vault.
The freshman class adds depth in the vaulting team, as four of the five newcomers are training on vault. The coaches believe that Ana Balboa and Yuri Nagai have a good chance of making the competition line up on vault this year.
Four of the regular bars performers in 2007 return for the 2008 campaign: Angela Walker, Jade Beattie, Carmelina Carabajal and Alexis Russell.
The Gophers return their top bars performer from last season in junior Angela Walker. Walker owned the top five bars scores for the Gophers in 2007, with her best score of 9.875 coming at Utah State (3/17). Walker was the top Gopher performer on bars at six meets, and won two event titles on bars. She was the team’s top performer at the Big Ten meet, earning a 9.85 to tie for eighth place on bars, and was the top Gopher scorer at the NCAA Regional with a 9.8. Walker earned the team’s highest bars average with a 9.758.
Sophomore Alexis Russell was a top scorer for Minnesota at two meets, and won the bars title at the Best of Minnesota Meet (2/10).
Redshirt freshman Jamie Bullock is a talented bars performer, and looks to return to competition this year after having foot surgery last January and an offseason hip surgery.
All five newcomers are training on bars and will add depth to the event. Kendra Elm, Kristin Furukawa and Yuri Nagai will all contend for a spot in the bars line up in their rookie seasons.
Minnesota returns its entire beam squad from 2007, and has added depth with the addition of the five newcomers, who are all training on beam.
In 2007, Ashley Stanton led the team on the beam seven times during the season, winning four beam titles. She owned three of the team’s top five scores in the event, including the team high of 9.875, scored at Arizona (2/2). Stanton anchored the beam line up in each of her first three seasons of competition.
Junior Angela Walker was a team leader on beam at five meets last year, and tied for first place on beam at Utah State with a 9.85. Walker was Minnesota’s top performer at the NCAA regional meet with a mark of 9.8.
Senior Ashley Mutchler led the Gophers on beam at two meets last season, and tied with Walker for the team lead and the event title with a 9.85 in the meet at Utah State.
Carmelina Carabajal led the team in average beam score with a 9.700.
At the Big Ten Championship, Alexis Russell had the team’s highest score with a 9.8 to tie for eighth place.
Redshirt freshman Jamie Bullock will also contend for a spot in the beam line up after returning from injury last season.
The Gophers return five of six routines on floor, including team leader Carmelina Carabajal. Carabajal won five titles on the floor in 2007, and owned four of the team’s top five scores in the event. She set a career-high with a 9.9 in the season opener against Iowa State (1/13), and matched that score two more times during the year. Carabajal was a team leader on floor seven times, and owns the team’s highest average floor score with a 9.819.
Seniors Amanda Miles and Ashley Stanton were consistent performers on floor last year, and will compete again this season. Junior Angela Walker competed on floor in all but the first two meets of the 2007 season, and will likely compete in the event again this year.
Four of the team’s five newcomers are training on floor, adding depth to what is traditionally one of the strongest events for the Gophers.
Minnesota had two regular all around performers in 2007, Carmelina Carabajal and Alexis Russell, and both return for the 2008 season.
Carabajal had four of the team’s top five all around scores last year, including a team-best 39.175, earned at Utah State (3/17). Russell also earned her best all around score at Utah State, tallying a 39.125 to mark the team’s second-best all around score of the year. Carabajal and Russell each had one all around title in 2007, with Carabajal winning at Utah State and Russell winning at the Best of Minnesota Meet (2/10).
After recovering from a knee injury suffered in 2005, junior Angela Walker returned to training on all four events during the 2007 season. She has a possibility of competing as an all arounder in 2008.
This Week’s Opponents
LSU: The LSU Tigers enter the 2008 season with a No. 10 rank in the GymInfo Preseason Coaches’ Poll. LSU finished the 2007 season in seventh place at the NCAA Championships.Returning All-American Susan Jackson was the all around winner at the team’s intrasquad exhibition. Head coach D-D Breaux is in her 31st season at the helm of the Tigers’ program. She is assisted by Bob Moore and Philip Ogletree.
Denver: The Pioneers are listed at No. 15 in the preseason rankings. In 2007, Denver made its first trip to the NCAA Championships, where the team finished 10th. This season, DU returns 18 of 24 routines from 2007 and returns 10 gymnasts while adding five newcomers. Melissa Kutcher-Rinehart is in her ninth season as Denver’s head coach. Carl Leland and Nilson Savage are her assistant coaches.
Texas Women’s: The Pioneers enter the 2008 season after finishing fourth at the USAG Collegiate National Championships in 2007. The team returns 10 letterwinners, including three seniors, and has added six freshman to the 2008 squad. Frank Kudlac is in his 29th season as head coach of the Pioneers. He is assisted by Lisa Klein and Tim Rivera.
Coaching the Gophers
Jim and Meg Stephenson are entering their 16th season at the helm of the Golden Gopher program. Jim served as the head coach while Meg was an assistant until 1998, when Meg joined Jim as a co-head coach. Minnesota’s coaches have earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors four times during their tenure, and were honored with the Regional Coach of the Year award in 2002. The duo has a 146-118-1 record as co-head coaches.