Gopher Gymnastics NCAA Championship notebook

The Gophers finished 2nd at the NCAA Championships in 2018. Now, they're heading to the 2019 championships.

Freshman David Pochinka competes in the still rings at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 26.

Jack Rodgers

Freshman David Pochinka competes in the still rings at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 26.

Paul Hodowanic

The Gopher’s men gymnastics team heads to the NCAA Championships this weekend in a position that is striking similar to that of 2018. 

Both the 2018 and 2019 teams finished atop the Big Ten in the regular season, but followed up with a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Big Ten Championships. This year’s team hopes the similarities don’t stop at the NCAA Championships, where they finished in second place last season. This finish was tied for the program’s best finish at the event. 

“I think we always do a lot better [at the National Championships]. I think the expectation lowers and we start being more real with ourselves and what we are capable of,” said sophomore Shane Wiskus. “Everyone’s goal is to make day two. If we make it day two, our confidence will go up and we can potentially medal again like we did last year.”

The Gophers will first compete in the Friday qualifying round. The top three finishers in the qualifying round compete in the finals on Saturday. Minnesota is seeded No. 6 and will perform against five teams, including two conference opponents: No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Nebraska, No. 10 Navy and No. 11 California. 

Minnesota has faced off with fellow Big Ten teams Michigan and Nebraska this season with limited success. The Gophers are 0-3 against the Wolverines and 1-3 against the Cornhuskers. 

“Nebraska has had our number all year. They’ve found a way to beat us on numerous occasions,” said head coach Mike Burns. “We need to find a way to beat them this week. We have to have a performance that will get us into day two. Whoever we beat to do that, so be it.”

Pochinka, Karstadt nominated for CGA awards

The College Gymnastics Association released nominees for several end of the season awards, and a pair of Gophers gymnasts found themselves on the list. Senior Justin Karstadt was nominated for Specialist of the Year, and freshman David Pochinka was on the short list for Rookie of the Year. The winners will be announced Thursday.

“It’s nice to know I’m up there with some of the best freshman out there,” Pochinka said. “It’s good to know I’m up there with them and in that same echelon.”

The freshman has made a significant impact in recent weeks. He won his first event title on March 23 with a 14.500 on parallel bars. He also put a solid showing at the Big Ten Championships, qualifying for day two on parallel bars and pommel horse. He currently ranks No. 12 nationally on the parallel bars. Pochinka’s development has been a pleasant surprise for teammates and coaches.

“We knew he had a lot of talent coming in,” Burns said. “He had a history of some challenging struggles being consistent in competition. I think I’ve seen a huge improvement on that, especially on pommel horse. It’s been nice to see him get to level we need him to be at the right time of the year.”

In addition to Pochinka and Karstadt, Wiskus was nominated for the CGA MVP award early Wednesday evening. 

Nissen-Emery winner will be announced this weekend

Seniors Vitali Kan and Karstadt will learn their fate on Thursday when the CGA’s Nissen Emery Award winner is announced. Both were nominated in early March. The award is given out annually to the nation’s top senior gymnast. It is considered the highest honor in men’s college gymnastics. 

If Kan or Karstadt win, they will be the fifth Gophers gymnast to win the award since 1966. The last winner was Ellis Mannon in 2015.