Jaciuk leads by example on, off the mat

Steve Jaciuk is the sole captain of the Gophers, though he is only a junior.

Minnesotas Steve Jaciuk competes on the rings Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Daily File Photo, Amanda Snyder

Minnesota’s Steve Jaciuk competes on the rings Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

by David Nelson

Steve Jaciuk‘s voice can be heard throughout the Sports Pavilion as he fires up his teammates before the Gophers begin their meets.

Still, even without the powerful vocals, Jaciuk has emerged as the unquestionable leader this season.

“He leads by example,” head coach Mike Burns said. “When he’s struggling a bit, he doesn’t give up. He keeps pushing. He holds himself to a real high standard.

“Those are all good character traits you want in a leader.”

Jaciuk first became a captain last season when he co-captained with senior Justin Morinishi. This season, however, his teammates decided to make Jaciuk the solo captain.

Jaciuk, a junior, said he expressed his trepidation to his teammates before the season began.

“It’s a lot of responsibility falling on one guy,” he said.

The Gophers men’s gymnastics team has eight seniors listed on the roster. Jaciuk said barking orders at his older teammates can be intimidating. His sophomore year was particularly challenging because the team had a handful of fifth-year seniors, he said.

But the job has gotten easier with each passing meet, Jacuik said.

“This year, it’s not [intimidating] as much,” Jaciuk said. “I think our team’s relationship is so much stronger.

“I feel comfortable in the fact they respect me enough, and they’ll follow me regardless of age.”

That chemistry has contributed to success this year for the No. 6 Gophers, including back-to-back first-place finishes in the last two weeks.

Jaciuk is a big reason for that.

“He knows how to get down on a level and connect with people past gymnastics,” sophomore Paul Montague Jr. said. “He brings people together.”

Not only has Jaciuk helped bring the team together, but Burns said the junior has helped hold his teammates to a higher standard.

“He’s got real good passion. That’s what I like about him,” Burns said. “There’s no room for mediocrity, and he’s just got this burning desire to win.”

That desire’s been evident since his junior year of high school.

Jaciuk sustained a stress fracture in his lower back that kept him out of competition his junior season — a time when most recruiters begin looking at gymnasts.

“I did not get recruited nearly as much as a lot of other guys I was just as good as across the nation,” Jaciuk said. “Minnesota was one of the only ones to really give me a chance.

“That only fueled me … to prove people wrong on the collegiate level.”

Jaciuk attended a summer camp hosted by the Gophers before the start of his senior year.

He was signed before school started.

“We had a chance to work with him over the course of that weeklong summer camp,” Burns said. “You could already see the leadership qualities there.”

Those qualities have only developed since then.

Jaciuk said his mom pushed him to do gymnastics at a young age because she thought he was clumsy. Now, 17 years later, Minnesota’s found itself a steady leader.