Men’s and women’s teams to compete at conference meet

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team understands how important it is to stay focused on individual routines rather than the competition’s success.

But it’s hard to ignore the competition at this year’s Big Ten Championships, which begins at 7 tonight in Iowa City, Iowa.

So the ninth-ranked Gophers are making it a point to prepare an intense environment, as they are the underdog against the likes of No. 3 Ohio State, fourth-ranked Illinois, sixth-ranked Penn State, seventh-ranked Iowa and eighth-ranked Michigan.

“I told some of the freshmen who are unfamiliar that they can think about the Pacific Coast Tournament we were at earlier,” coach Mike Burns said. “I said, ‘Remember how big that was, times that by 10 and you have an idea of the intensity level at the Big Ten Championships.’ “

And the strength of the Big Ten means stiff competition for junior all-arounder Jacob Lee.

“I think I’m pretty much at the same level as those other guys,” Lee said. “And all I’m going to do is concentrate on myself and hit all my routines. If I do that, I think I’ll have a really good chance to win.”

The Gophers look at the teams competing at Big Tens and notice the meets resemblance to another important meet – the NCAA Championships.

Because no other conference in the country can say it holds six teams in the top 10, let alone the top 25.

“Expectation is that we’re going to go and have our best meet of the year,” Burns said. “We’re ranked sixth in the Big Ten and our expectations are to move ahead of a couple or all of those other teams.”

Women eager for rivalries

Minnesota’s women’s gymnastics team is in the habit of outlining team goals before each season.

This year’s goals dealt with improving on last season’s performances, specifically the team’s third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships.

So when the 2006 version of the meet that determines the conference elite begins at 6 p.m. Saturday night in East Lansing, Mich., the 21st-ranked Gophers have set their sights on a top-two finish.

“The whole beam team is becoming more consistent as a whole,” sophomore Ashley Stanton said. “Scores don’t matter to us because the first girl up is just as good as the second or the sixth. And that means less pressure and more fun.”

Minnesota’s upbeat outlook has led to eagerness, as the Gophers can’t wait to take on conference rivals Michigan and Penn State, who are ranked seventh and 16th in the country, respectively.

“We all look forward to this meet because of the rivalries,” Stanton said. “We’re going to stay focused on our team, not give the other teams the time of day and march right through.”