Carver to host gymnastics regional


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Last summer, Iowa was known as home to one of the country’s best gymnasts. Now this weekend, some of the best collegiate gymnasts are coming to Iowa.

Iowa City will host the 2009 NCAA North Central Regional, and the competition packing into Carver-Hawkeye Arena is impressive. Six teams (including Iowa) will compete for the top two spots in hopes of qualifying for the NCAA championships later in the month.

“It’s such incredible gymnastics that’s coming in here,” Iowa head coach Larissa Libby said. “I love that opportunity for our young team to see that kind of gymnastics, what’s being done around the country. I think it’s great for the city, great for the state — on the heels of Shawn Johnson’s great success — to see such wonderful gymnastics.”

Here’s a look at the teams slated to compete with Iowa this weekend.

No. 6 Florida

The Florida gymnastics team is the No. 1 seed in the meet. The Gators finished third at the SEC championships (behind Alabama and Georgia) with a score of 196.75. The Gators look to win their fifth-consecutive NCAA regional and return to the NCAA meet, in which they finished fourth last season.

Juniors Melanie Sinclair and Maranda Smith lead the way. Sinclair is the second highest all-around qualifier at the regional, with an average score of 39.430, ranked 14th in the nation. She’s also ranked third in the country on the uneven bars with a 9.920. Smith is a threat on the floor exercise, where she ranks ninth in the nation with a regional-best 9.905.

No. 7 UCLA

The Pac-10 champion and second-seeded UCLA has the distinction of being the only women’s gymnastics program in the competition to have won a national championship, most recently in 2004.

The Bruins are led by freshmen Vanessa Zamarripa and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs. UCLA ranks as the top vaulting team in the nation, and Zamarripa is the top vaulter in the country, scoring a 10.0 three times this season and averaging a 9.955. Hopfner-Hibbs, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, is ranked third in the qualifier for the all-around with a 39.410, 15th-best in the country.

No. 18 Minnesota

Despite finishing fourth at the Big Ten championships, the Gophers got a big lift when senior Carmelina Carabajal won the all-around title with a career-best 39.500. She averages a 9.885 on the balance beam, tied for 11th in the country. She, along with junior Alexis Russell, were also selected to the All-Big Ten first team.

Last year, Minnesota missed qualifying for the NCAA championships with a third-place team finish in the North Regional with a 195.275. The Gophers last qualified for it was in 2002.

No. 20 Denver

The Denver Pioneers will make their 11th-consecutive NCAA regional appearance; it is led by senior All-American Jessica Lopez.

Lopez ranks eighth in the nation on the all-around with an average score of 39.470, good enough to be the top qualifier in the regional. She also leads her team in every event including ranking second on the vault (9.885), third on the uneven bars (9.885) and floor exercise (9.890), and fourth on the balance beam (9.880) in the North Central Regional.

No. 23 Iowa State

As the No. 5 seed, Iowa State will make its 14th overall NCAA regional appearance. The Cyclones have qualified for three NCAA championships, with the most recent coming in 2006.

They are led by senior Jasmine Thompson, who scored the highest all-around mark for Iowa State this season with a 39.300. At the Big 12 championships, the Cyclones finished fourth with a score of 195.775.

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