Gophers take 4th at Big Ten championships

by Susan Filkins

For a mere 30 seconds on March 23, Iowa men’s gymnastics coach Tom Dunn thought his team had pulled out an upset and won the Big Ten championship at the Sports Pavilion.
Heavily favored Ohio State had a few problems during its horizontal bar routines, and it looked as if the Buckeyes were going to hand Iowa the title.
Dunn knew after Ohio State’s miscues in the final rotation that his team was close to accomplishing the nearly impossible feat of defeating the Buckeyes and winning the title for the first time in 11 years.
Dunn and his team looked up at the scoreboard on the wall, and by the looks of it, they had won the title.
“I asked some of the parents if they knew the score,” Dunn said. “They scrolled the scores a minute before they announced it, and it looked like we had won.”
The results displayed on the scoreboard were misleading and when the final scores were announced, the defending Big Ten champions and No. 1-ranked Buckeyes had pulled out the victory again.
It was a close finish though. Ohio State recorded a 230.825 just edging No. 4 Iowa’s 230.7. The Gophers fell out of the race finishing fourth with a 227.45.
After the meet, Dunn was a little rattled, but he said the outcome was predictable.
“Ohio State was definitely the favorite, so I am not completely disappointed,” Dunn said. “But when you have an opportunity and it’s that close, it’s frustrating.”
Ohio State coach Peter Kormann said before the meet his team had upgraded 87 percent of their routines for the Big Tens. He said he thought his team needed to work harder and finish in the best way possible. Despite his team’s problems on the high bar, Kormann was pleased.
“We changed a lot of things, maybe too many,” Kormann said. “We had a couple of bumps, but the guys pulled it out, so it was great to do it a second time in a row.”
As close as the race for first place was, the margin in scores for the other places were also small.
Finishing third behind Iowa was No. 6 Penn State with a 228. Following Minnesota in fifth place was No. 10 Illinois recording a 227.2, and closely behind in sixth was No. 13 Michigan State with a 227.
Minnesota recorded its second highest score of the season at the meet. Gophers coach Fred Roethlisberger said his team has grown a lot more confident over the past month and has vastly improved.
“We wanted to have our best meet of the year and we did,” Roethlisberger said. “The athletes are peaking at this point in the year and have built themselves up. I think the coaches should feel pretty satisfied, too.”
Senior co-captains Frank Ticknor and Heath Wall said their fourth place finish this year is much more satisfying than last year’s disappointing fourth place finish.
“This year I think we were pretty happy,” Ticknor said. “We were resilient. We had some problems in our first two routines, but we pulled out enough scores to be respectful and we are pretty happy with that.”
Wall and Ticknor were two of five Gophers who qualified for the individual finals held the following afternoon. Ticknor qualified in the still rings after placing seventh in the all-around. Wall also qualified in the rings as well as the parallel bars.
Junior George Beatty qualified to compete in the parallel bar finals while sophomore Dan Boots made it to the finals round in the horizontal bar. Freshman Lindsey Fang was the lone Gophers qualifier in the vault.
The individual event finals did not fare well for Minnesota. The highest finisher was Fang who ended up in seventh place in the vault.
“We were all pretty tired,” Wall said. “The first day is such an emotional high and then to come back the next day and try to equal that or better is really tough.”
Despite the Gophers inability to finish high in the individual events, it is the team score that was most important. With their score from the Big Ten meet, Minnesota is now in position to qualify for the NCAA East Regionals on Saturday at West Point, N.Y.
Roethlisberger said he hopes his team will use the Big Ten meet to prove how competitive the Gophers can be and to help them prepare for regionals.
“We probably still have two points better than we can do,” Roethlisberger said. “The three teams that will be at nationals will be three teams out of the Big Ten. That proves it is wide open for us to reach the national championships.”

Notes: The individual championships were dominated by Ohio State. Buckeyes senior Blaine Wilson, a member of the 1996 Olympic team, won the pommel horse, still rings, horizontal bar and floor exercise. His senior teammate Drew Durbin won the parallel bars title and Illinois freshman Travis Romagnoli won the vault competition.
Wilson also won the individual all-around title and was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year.
The Big Ten Freshman of the Year was Mike Dutka from Penn State. Both Kormann and Dunn recieved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.