The first time she saw Lindsay Mable perform, MaryAnne Kelley knew she was looking at the gymnast who would break her Gophers record for highest all-around score. The first time she met Mable, Kelley understood she had found the kindred spirit who would cherish it as much as she had.
A standout Gophers gymnast from 1999-2002, Kelley struck up a friendship with the team’s current star when Mable joined the program last season. They became so close that Mable felt a little guilty on March 1, when she earned an all-around score of 39.625 in a dual-meet victory over Iowa State to break Kelley’s 12-year-old record of 39.600. “I was talking with her that night, and I was almost like, ‘I don’t want to break your record,’ ” Mable said Monday. “She’s an amazing person and a huge role model to me.”
Kelley feels much the same about Mable. She was there to see the sophomore set the mark, and she will be at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday to watch Mable and the Gophers compete at the NCAA regionals.
As a freshman, Mable helped the Gophers make the NCAA championships field for the first time since Kelley set the all-around record in 2002. This season, she became the program’s first Big Ten all-around champion since 2009, scored a perfect 10.0 to win the vault title at the league championships and was named a regular-season first-team All-America in all-around and floor exercise.
Mable said the 14th-ranked Gophers want to go a step further this spring by finishing in the top six at the NCAA meet. Like Kelley, she holds a deep love for the program and appreciation for its history, even as she continues to add new chapters.
“She is the total package: consistent, dynamic and graceful,” Kelley said. “And her love for performing just radiates from her. When you watch her, you can’t help but get a huge smile on your face.
“Lindsay and I have a special bond. It was such an honor to hold that record, and it means just as much to her.”
A Colorado native, Mable didn’t know much about the Gophers until she made a recruiting visit. She was won over by the close-knit, supportive environment fostered by the coaches and athletes.
She soon learned the sisterhood reaches beyond the current group at Peik Gym. Many Gophers alumnae have remained close to the program, including Kelley. She attends meets with her three children and her mother, 1968 Olympic gymnast Diane Bolin Kelley, and has helped cultivate the program’s sense of continuity and community.
Bolin Kelley has become close to Mable, too. The two chat via e-mail and Facebook, and Bolin Kelley gave Mable a lucky ladybug pin she used to wear to MaryAnne’s meets. The intergenerational friendships have made the Kelleys even bigger fans of Mable, who tied MaryAnne’s all-around record as a rookie and was named Big Ten freshman of the year.
Mable placed fourth on floor exercise and tied for fifth on vault at the NCAA meet to end a freshman season in which she was named a first-team All-America and all-Big Ten. As a sophomore, she has continued to refine the details of her routines while taking nothing for granted.
“It was amazing and surreal to have the season I had last year,” Mable said. “Coming in this year, I wanted to work just as hard and not let any of the success get to me. You have to keep working just as hard every year to achieve success. That’s helped me to never feel settled with what I’ve done.”
That includes her crowning achievements. Mable has pushed her Yurchenko full vault to new heights, and her 10.0 — the first perfect score for a Gophers gymnast in 12 years — helped the team finish third at the Big Ten meet after winning the league’s regular-season title. She also bettered the all-around record she set three weeks earlier, winning the Big Ten championship with a score of 39.650.
“Lindsay didn’t rest on her laurels,” coach Meg Stephenson said. “She’s very dedicated to training and to continuing to build the culture we’re trying to create. She’s already left a mark on this program.”
And already, Mable said, she is intent on teaching that culture to her younger teammates. She expects the Gophers’ greater depth and their NCAA tournament experience to benefit them this weekend and beyond, as she pursues the next milestones for herself and her team.
“Last year, I was unaware of what each [accomplishment] meant,” she said. “I’ve realized more this year what it really means. Passing the torch of what we’re all about, I’ve tried to make that my role.”