So much for summer vacation, the members of the Golden Gopher women’s gymnastics team are working hard over the summer break, training in the gym, taking classes, and working. While summer practices are voluntary, the gymnasts are all training over the summer in a show of their dedication to improving and bringing the team back to the NCAA Championship next spring. Many are training in Peik Gym on the University of Minnesota campus, but a few are training at gyms in their hometowns.
“It’s nice to see people working so hard in the summer,” said senior Angela Walker. “Our coaches can’t require us to do gymnastics over the summer, so all of my teammates are training because they want to be, not because they have to be. It’s a good sign that you see people in here working hard. I feel like everyone is motivated, and I’m especially proud of last year’s freshmen. They’re doing so well, and they’re so much stronger than they were last year.”
In a sport that’s incredibly demanding on the body, summer is also an important time for the gymnasts to heal and rest their bodies in preparation for the upcoming season.
“If people have injuries, summer is a good time for people to take it easy so they feel good going into the fall,” explained senior Jade Beattie.
“In the summer, it’s really important to rest your body and make sure that your body is going to last through the season,” said Walker. “Once the season starts, it’s non-stop, and you can’t afford to take time off unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
As always, a main team goal for the season is to advance to the NCAA Championship. Getting to the national meet takes countless hours pursuing perfection in this sport where tiny mistakes can be the difference between earning a trip to the national meet or not. Every hundredth of a point counts, and the gymnasts are spending their summer perfecting skills in order to raise scores once the competition season begins.
“In the big picture, nationals is always the goal, but consistency is what gets you there.” explained Beattie. “Each skill in each routine matters, it needs to be perfect every time.”
“Jim (Stephenson) always says ‘every turn counts’, and it really is true,” said Carabajal. “If you work hard every day and create good habits for yourself, success will come around.”
A motivating factor for the team this summer is the strong performance the Gophers had at the NCAA Regional Championship last spring. The team finished third at the North Central Regional, earning a top-20 national finish. The team’s final national ranking of No. 16 is among the best in program history, and made the team members hungry for a trip to the NCAA Championship in 2009.
“We were so close to making it to nationals last year,” said senior captain Carmelina Carabajal. “I think the work we’re doing this summer is going to propel us to make it to nationals this year. We have so much motivation because we were so close to making it to nationals last year, we finished just a couple spots away from the top 12.”
Last season, balance beam was a strength for the Gophers, as it has been for many years. Uneven bars also became a solid event for Minnesota in 2008 after struggling early in the season. Minnesota’s weakest event in 2008 was vault, and the team has been working hard to improve in that event.
“I think bars will be a strong event for us this year, we have a lot of good routines and strong skills on bars,” said Beattie. “As far as competition for line up spots, uneven bars will be the toughest.”
“Last year was one of the first times that bars has been a strength for the team, at least since we’ve been here,” said Carabajal. “We’re also trying to work on getting better on vault, which wasn’t our top last season.” “I know we’ve always had good beam, and I think our beam will be strong again,” said Walker. “Two years ago, bars was our weakest event, but we’ve come along way, and I think that will be a strength this year.”
With last year’s senior class of Amanda Miles, Ashley Mutchler and Ashley Stanton graduated, the team lost six of 24 routines. There are 10 returning gymnasts to are motivated to fill those spots in the line up, and with the addition of three freshmen, Minnesota should put up a strong lineup in 2009. All three incoming freshmen, Lucy Ennis, Briana Jones and Kylie Smith, are training on all four events.
“It’s always nice to get those freshmen in who are eager and fresh and ready to go to help fill some spots, said Walker. “They are really excited, which is good, because it’s a problem if someone isn’t super excited to come here and join the team. The more excited they are, the more willing they are to work hard and contribute to the team.”
“All three of the freshman sound so excited to come in and get training,” said Beattie. “They’ve been in for orientation, and they’ve been training at home during the summer, but they’re so excited to get here.”
So what do these wise seniors have to say to the incoming freshmen?
“Just enjoy it, said Beattie. “I don’t know how you could not enjoy being a part of this team, because it’s so much fun.”
“Make every moment count, and everything will work out for you,” said Carabajal.