U gets edged by No. 1 Buckeyes

by Susan Filkins

Upon conclusion of the No. 13 Gophers men’s gymnastics team’s dual meet with No. 1 Ohio State Saturday, Minnesota coach Fred Roethlisberger approached the scoring officials table frantically looking for the results.
He knew it was a close finish and was more than anxious to find out if his team had knocked off the defending NCAA national champions.
The results had not yet been compiled as Roethlisberger took his position with his team to await the announcement.
A few moments later, the final was displayed on the scoreboard: Ohio State 228.725, Minnesota 228.5.
A mere .225 team points prevented what could have been the Buckeyes first loss in two years.
After five events, the Gophers (3-3) found themselves in a position to win the meet. Heading into the last rotation with Ohio State (8-0), the horizontal bar, the Gophers knew they needed everything to be perfect. But it did not happen.
An uncharacteristic fall by senior co-captain Frank Ticknor and a miscue by freshman Lindsey Fang resulted in some lower than normal scores. Luckily for the Gophers, Ohio State experienced the same type of problems on the parallel bars, which created the tight finish.
“This is the first time we got ourselves in a situation to feel the pressure and feel disappointed,” Roethlisberger said. “Other times weren’t even close. Here we put ourselves in a position to feel really great or really lousy.”
The Gophers not only came close to defeating Ohio State, but they also increased their team score by almost five points.
With no discredit to Minnesota, the Buckeyes weren’t exactly at full force. Buckeyes senior co-captain Blaine Wilson, a member of the 1996 U.S. Olympic team and currently the nation’s No. 1 ranked gymnast in the all-around, was competing in the American Cup in Dallas.
The reason for the Buckeyes’ weak showing was not a result of Wilson’s absence, but rather a shaky performance on several events by his teammates. Ohio State assistant coach Miles Avery said it was the Buckeyes’ poorest outing of the season, but admitted Minnesota gave them a tough time.
“Minnesota did a great job, this is their best effort,” Avery said. “When you get the No. 1 team coming in, and you get the opportunity to knock them off, you should do that. And they certainly took it and tried to do that. I applaud them for how they performed in trying to win this meet.”
A major plus for the Gophers was the return of senior co-captain Heath Wall to the all-around lineup for the first time this season. Wall, who suffered an ankle injury in the first week of the season, has been unable to compete on floor exercise.
With a career best performance on four of six events, Wall won the all-around title over nationally ranked senior Drew Durbin (No. 3) and sophomore Doug Stibel (No. 14).
“It is a total relief,” Wall said. “Being back the first time doing all-around and being able to hit like I did was a big step forward.”
Wall’s teammate Ticknor came in third place on the all-around while recording two personal-bests as well. Ticknor and Wall were the only Gophers to finish in first place, tying on the still rings with a 9.75.
Another Minnesota highlight was the performance of junior George Beatty, who gave the small, noisy crowd something to cheer about. Beatty recorded two personal- bests, including a second-place finish of 9.75 on the parallel bars behind Durbin.
“Everybody, even I, saw what I could really do today,” Beatty said. “I surprised myself, and I think we know what we can do now. But we didn’t even really do as much as we can.”
With only one meet remaining in the regular season, the Gophers feel they saw their potential, despite the loss.
“To say that we got that close to Ohio State is great,” Wall said. “Just to be within two-tenths is a tremendous step. Improving our score by almost five points is an even bigger step for the whole team.”
Beatty said he believed the Gophers had a chance all along.
“I told some of these guys we could do it,” he said. “And I don’t know if they really believed me, but they saw that we could.”