The Minnesota Gophers gymnastics team kicks off their NCAA Tournament on Thursday when they compete in the opening session of the Norman Regional on Thursday afternoon. Eight teams in Normal Oklahoma will first be cut down to four, and then just two of those final four will advance to the NCAA Championships in Fort Worth, Texas in two weeks. Minnesota will need to defeat six other teams including several ranked very near the Gophers to get back to the NCAA Championships for the second straight season.
Minnesota is the #8 national seed and will open action Thursday afternoon in the first season in Norman. Joining the Gophers in the gym will be #9 seed California, Boise State, and Utah State. The top two of those teams will join the top two from the evening session that features #1 Oklahoma, #16 Arizona State, Arkansas, and Arizona in the Region Finals on Saturday. Of the four teams that advance to the region finals, only the top two will qualify for the Final 8 teams that will make the NCAA Championships.
For Minnesota to advance as a team, they will need to get their shining performances from their stars as usual, but it will be key to get good performances from their bottom of the line performers on their events. Minnesota fell to a fourth place finish at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago after they had to score a very low score on the balance beam because two of their six athletes fell off. A mistake like that will virtually kill any chance to advancing past this weekend as a team.
Minnesota’s stars will need to bring it as well this weekend if they want to get to Forth Worth. From each regional the top two teams and all their gymnasts advance to both the team and individual competitions. However the top all-around score, and the top individual event score that is not on one of the two teams to advance will also still quality for the NCAA Finals in those events. Thus if the Gophers do struggle as a team there is still a definite path to the NCAA Championships for Minnesota stars like Lexy Ramler in the All-Around, beam and on bars, for Ona Loper in the All-Around on vault and on floor, and for Mya Hooten on the floor. They would all much rather be competing together with the entire team in Fort Worth, and for that they and their teammates will need to show up and perform twice this weekend.
To advance the Gophers will most likely need a team score of near 197.500. Minnesota advanced out of the Athens Region last season with a 197.425. The Gophers have hit that score five times this season including a new program high of 198.025 against Iowa in February. Their biggest threat to advancing to the national finals will be Cal. Oklahoma as the #1 ranked team in the nation should advance easily leaving the Gophers and Golden bears to most likely fight over the final spot. Cal’s high score this year is a 197.900, also against the Hawkeyes. If the Gophers bring it like they have in the past, their spot should be secure. But one critical mistake at the wrong time and poof...its gone just like that. Hopefully Minnesota can be as gorgeous and technically sound as we have seen them before and by Saturday night we will know they have one more weekend of gymnastics yet this season.