There are approximately 100 African American and other student-athletes of color this school year at the University of Minnesota. In an occasional series throughout the 2016-17 school and sports year, the MSR will highlight many of these players
This week: Gopher gymnasts Ciara Gardner and Paige Williams
Both native Texans and the team’s only Black gymnasts, Ciara Gardner and Paige Williams both like this year’s Gopher women’s gymnastics team’s chances in the upcoming Big Ten championships at Rutgers in New Jersey March 18.
“I definitely feel we are moving in the right direction, in the direction that we want to go,” declared the junior Gardner before a recent team practice.
Despite being from the same Dallas-Fort Worth area — Gardner hails from Frisco, Texas and Williams from Wylie, Texas — the two young women didn’t really know each other until they became Gophers two years apart. “I didn’t know she was here until I got here,” admitted Williams on Gardner. “We were on the same [club] team a long time ago.”
Williams noted that adjusting to being away from home was initially difficult: “I’m from Texas and really far away from my family,” she pointed out, adding that the sport’s regimen and support from her new teammates, including a fellow Texan, helped relieve her homesickness.
“I had the exact same problems coming in” as a freshman, recalled Gardner. “It was easy for me to take her [Williams] under my wing and pull her along to where I am now — to help her be successful as I am right now.”
The MSR watched Gardner and Williams both perform nearly perfect routines at the February 26 Best of Minnesota meet at the Sports Pavilion against Winona State, Gustavus Adolphus and Hamline. Gardner topped the all-around results, first on beam, second on uneven parallel bars and floor exercise. Williams finished first on vault, second on balance beam, and third in floor.
“I’m improving each and every week,” noted Gardner. “Things have been going pretty well. It’s been a roller coaster, off and on. I’ve had some injuries to take care of. I’m better now.”
The two again were impressive in the team’s final home meet two weekends ago against BYU. Gardner posted personal bests as she won beam and all-around, and she and Williams won silver in vault.
Williams, who last month won Big Ten Freshman of the Week and finished as floor tri-champion at the conference qualifier meet last weekend, said, “That was a surprise to me because I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
The first-year athlete stated her goal is to improve confidence-wise, “believing in myself, because I get real nervous,” admitted Williams. “I don’t want my nerves to get the best of me during competition.”
Noted Gardner, “I try to think of everything the same, even for the bigger meets” in her preparation and approach to competing. “I don’t want to stress myself out or be too anxious or nervous.”
“I think I can go way farther than I have been,” surmised the junior. “I’m excited to see how far I can go.”
“I just want to improve and finish off the season strong,” concluded Williams.
Cities average as ‘college hoops haven’
WalletHub last week in their 2017’s Best and Worst Cities for College Basketball Fans found that the Twin Cities is below average as a “college hoops haven” among 291 U.S. cities in men’s basketball. Minneapolis is 88th in conference titles and 172nd in win percentage among several areas examined (1 is best and 146 is average). A Wallet Hub spokesperson told the MSR that they hope to include women’s teams in next year’s report.
Read our stories on new USA Women’s National Team Coach Dawn Staley and our annual reporting of men’s and women’s tournament teams’ graduation rate breakdowns by race on MSR News Online.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com