Gophers fulfill goal with second-place finish at NCAA championships

Minnesota recorded its best finish at the NCAA championships since 1990.

Shane Wiskus speaks to media during the press conference in Cooke Hall on Sunday, April 22, 2018.

Max Ostenso

Shane Wiskus speaks to media during the press conference in Cooke Hall on Sunday, April 22, 2018.

Erik Nelson

The white board inside Cooke Hall Gymnasium has Minnesota’s goals for the season written on it. 

Since their fifth-place finish at the Big Ten championships, the Gophers made one of those goals to finish among the top three at the NCAA championships.

Minnesota accomplished that by finishing second at the NCAA championships in Chicago, the best finish by the Gophers since 1990. Minnesota had 11 All-American recognitions, the most in program history.

Junior Justin Karstadt said finishing second place at nationals was one of the happiest moments of his life.

“It wasn’t even on my sights going into the meet,” Karstadt said. “We were all hoping to get onto the podium, which is the top four.”

Freshman Shane Wiskus finished second in the all-around, receiving a score of 83.064. He earned All-American accolades on rings and high bar. 

Karstadt earned All-American recognition on pommel horse and parallel bars. Six other Gophers received All-American honors: Luke Aldrich, Tristan Duran, Shaun Herzog, Vitali Kan, Yaroslav Pochinka and Jalon Stephens. 

“I knew we had a strong team,” Karstadt said. “Our senior class has 10 guys. That’s half the team, and half of the team being seniors with veteran experience and the ability to deal with the pressure. I knew we had the makings of a great team.”

Oklahoma won the national championship for a fourth consecutive year, scoring 414.858. Minnesota finished second with a score of 411.923.

When Minnesota learned that it finished runner-up in the nation, its gymnasts screamed loudly and embraced each other. 

“When we found out, we were all shocked,” Duran said. “When I got done and I saw everyone cheering, I was confused. I was like, ‘Did we do something good?’ Then I look up and I see second place. I was in tears. I was surprised.”

On floor, Aldrich finished seventh, receiving a score of 14.166 and earned his first All-American recognition. Karstadt finished fifth on pommel horse with a score of 14.066. Wiskus was an All-American on rings, finishing fourth with a score of 13.866. 

“We knew what our personnel was going to be, coming into the beginning of the season,” head coach Mike Burns said. “We had some great freshmen coming in and we had a strong group of seniors. So many of these guys took advantage of the opportunities that were given to them.”

Pochinka tied for fourth place on vault, receiving a score of 14.766. Karstadt tied for third on parallel bars with a score of 14.466.

Wiskus finished seventh on high bar with a score of 13.866. Stephens finished fourth, earning a score of 13.966. 

Wiskus said he was speechless the entire meet.

“Everything fell into place,” Wiskus said. “We hit all of our routines. Looking up at the scoreboard after, it was surreal. It feels incredible.”

There is a banner in Cooke Hall that had all of Minnesota’s NCAA runner-up awards on it until this season’s performance — 1941, 1949 and 1990. Now, another year will have to be added.

“I’ve been doing this for 35-plus years,” Burns said. “Second place is pretty darn good.”