Jan. 10, 2013
The 23rd-ranked University of Minnesota women’s gymnastics team makes its 2013 regular season debut on Saturday evening, with a 6:00 p.m. CT meet at the Sports Pavilion against No. 17 Washington.
Today is the third of a four-part, class-by-class preview of what to expect from the 2013 Golden Gophers, focusing on this year’s experienced junior class.
Experience. Minnesota’s junior class has it. Among the three junior gymnasts on this year’s Golden Gopher women’s gymnastics roster are Kayla Slechta and Dusti Russell, the only members of the team to have competed at the NCAA Championships. The other junior is Justine Cherwink, who has courageously battled her way back after suffering an Achilles injury in each of the past two years.
“Making it to the NCAA’s in the all-around last year was a great experience for Kayla and Dusti,” head coach Meg Stephenson said. “I think it will help them to be really good role models and leaders, having been in such a big event and doing so well.”
Slechta has earned two trips to Nationals, where she has competed in the all-around as both a freshman and sophomore for the Gophers. Those experiences have been invaluable, and have helped her to have a better understanding of what it takes to compete at that level.
But high among Slechta’s goals for this season is to bring the rest of her teammates with her to the NCAA Championships when they take place April 19-21 at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. If that happens, it would mark Minnesota’s first trip to Nationals as a team since the 2002 squad finished ninth.
Russell is coming off her first trip to Nationals, where she also participated in the all-around competition. She, too, would love to make a return trip with the entire Gophers team.
“Dusti will be joining us in the all-around after the first few meets,” Stephenson said. “She’s recovering from a minor clean-up surgery to her ankle, so we’re going to play it safe with her to make sure we have her when it really counts toward the end of the season.”
The return of Cherwink will add depth and help to bolster a Minnesota lineup that was already strong, with 22 of 24 routines returning from last season, when the Golden Gophers captured third place at the Big Ten Championships and qualified as a team for their 18th NCAA Regional appearance.
“We’re hoping for a healthier year for Justine, and she has the potential to help us on every event,” Stephenson said. “She has one of the most exciting bar routines in NCAA competition, with a really cool release and a hop full in combination, so that’s a really unique and difficult skill. She’s in the best shape she’s ever been, and she’s definitely poised to have a great season.”
“Slechta does a huge vault for us and is consistently one of our best vaulters, maybe our best vaulter last year,” Stephenson said. “And Dusti really turned it on in that event last year, as well. So, they’ll both help us tremendously.”
“On balance beam, Kayla and Dusti are really strong competitors, and both are very consistent bar workers,” Stephenson said. “And Justine does very difficult skills with a big dismount.”
“On floor, Kayla and Dusti both have new routines this year, and some new tumbling, so it will be really fun for fans to see,” Stephenson said. “And Justine has incredibly unique tumbling and three difficult passes.”
Slechta will be celebrated on Saturday, which will be Kayla Slechta Community Night. Fans can receive $4 general admission tickets by using the code “KaylaShakopee” when ordering online or over the phone. The special rate is only available for advance sales, and will not be applicable on Saturday.
To order tickets, call the Gopher Ticket Office at 612.624.8080 or 1.800.U.GOPHER, or visit www.mygophersports.com.