Gophers women's sports: 5 stars of the season you should know

As the Minnesota winter turns to spring, Gophers athletes are moving through a variety of seasons. The swimmers, divers and gymnasts recently ended another year of competition. Golf is well into postseason play, while softball and track and field are still in the regular season, building toward the Big Ten championships.

Their timetables may be different, but there's been a common thread of excellence running through Gophers women's sports. Over the past several weeks, the U's athletes have claimed one NCAA title, multiple Big Ten championships, a school record and top-10 rankings in national and conference standings. With some of them still in action, there could be more to come.

Vivi Del Angel

The Gophers women's diving team has won NCAA titles on the springboards before. But on platform, the most daring discipline of all? Never – until Vivi Del Angel came along.

The sophomore from Veracruz, Mexico, didn't just capture the NCAA crown on March 23. She ran off with it, scoring 327.90 points in a virtuoso performance that gave her the title by more than 23 points. Del Angel led the final round from beginning to end, improving on her third-place NCAA finish last year.

Gophers divers have won 10 NCAA championships under coach Wenbo Chen, who has built a splashy dynasty at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center. Del Angel said she was inspired by seeing the names of past champions on the wall and felt determined to add her own. She left no doubt, finishing first or second in every meet this season to earn Big Ten diver of the year honors.

Shelby Frank

There's no shortage of strong arms around the Gophers athletic complex. Sure, you've got your pitchers and quarterbacks – but for flat-out muscle, it's hard to beat Shelby Frank.

The Gophers senior has mastered the art of long-distance chucking, and she has the track and field hardware to prove it. In February, Frank finished second in the weight throw at the NCAA indoor championships for the second year in a row. The native of Grand Forks, N.D., has kept that momentum going in the outdoor season.

Frank has broken her own school record in discus twice this year, throwing 195 feet, 10 inches at last month's Clyde Hart Classic before a toss of 198 feet two weeks later at the 44 Farms Team Invitational. That throw ranks sixth in the nation this year. She's also improved her personal best in the hammer throw with a 222-10 mark this season, second-best in Gophers history.

Mya Hooten

Most college gymnasts never receive a perfect 10. Mya Hooten entered this season with six of them, all in floor exercise, her signature event.

So what does a senior do when she's already reached the mountaintop? Climb it again, and find a couple new heights to scale. Hooten, of Woodbury, added three more 10s on floor this year and won a career-best 20 event titles. She was named a first-team all-America in two events for the first time, earning honors on floor and vault.

In a season overflowing with achievements, she also was conference co-champion on vault, floor and uneven bars and made the all-Big Ten first team. Hooten's winning combination of technical proficiency, style, charisma and joy took her all the way to the NCAA championships, where she finished 17th on vault.

Isabella McCauley

In her first look at Bulle Rock Golf Course, Isabella McCauley could see echoes of her home turf. Its bent grass reminded the sophomore of familiar Midwestern courses, and the layout seemed suited for low scores at last week's Big Ten championships.

The Maryland course didn't feel so welcoming in the first round, when she shot a 74. McCauley still believed it offered loads of birdie opportunities – and on the tournament's final day, she collected an entire flock. The Inver Grove Heights native and Simley grad finished with a 64, the best round of the tournament, to rocket from 18th place into a three-way tie for the Big Ten title.

McCauley tied the course record with that final round, which included eight birdies and no bogeys. Her Big Ten crown was the first for the Gophers in 35 years. Next up: the NCAA regionals May 6-8 in Auburn, Ala., where McCauley hopes to make the NCAA championship field for the second consecutive year.

Jess Oakland

A sophomore from San Jose, Calif., Oakland is knocking it out of the park this season. The Gophers shortstop has become one of the best hitters in the nation, with 17 home runs and a .448 average.

That's no surprise, given what she accomplished as a freshman. Oakland's 14 homers last year led the Gophers and were fourth-most in the Big Ten, lifting her to first-team all-conference honors. She's taken it up a notch this season, already surpassing last year's totals in hits (65), runs (60), doubles (13), RBI (49) and slugging percentage (.890).

With 31 career home runs, Oakland is one of the most prolific long-ball hitters in Gophers history. This season, she leads the Big Ten in multiple categories, including batting average, runs and walks (31). Nationally, she ranks ninth in batting average and 19th in hits. She's an ironwoman, too, starting all 102 games of her Gophers career.