Minnesota narrowly ends season

Brad Bobel

One routine stood between Minnesota and a berth in the NCAA team finals Friday as senior Steve Jaciuk came to the high bar. 
 
He scored a 14.60, tied for best on the team, but Minnesota still came up short and ended its season finishing just 0.2 points behind third place Penn State.
 
“It is pure and utter heartbreak. It came down to the last event, and we hit some of the best hits we’ve ever hit,” Jaciuk said. “It felt like the meet was stripped away from us, and I can’t articulate the emotions.”
 
Minnesota started on the floor as three freshmen scored 14.65 or higher, with sophomore Zach Liebler tallying a 15.20 to lead the team. The Gophers notched their highest team event score of the meet with a 74.30.
 
“We chose floor because I knew how good we were on it,” Jaciuk said. “The younger guys were going to score regardless, and the rest of us had to ride the wave.”
 
While other teams struggled on pommel horse, Minnesota stepped up and posted the only team score higher than 70. Defending NCAA pommel horse champion, senior Ellis Mannon, scored a 15.05 to lead the Gophers.
 
“Those guys really stepped up and embraced the pressure,” Jaciuk said. “They were hungry and executed better in these situations.”
 
Minnesota kept its momentum up through still rings and ended the fourth rotation on vault. Freshman Yaroslav Pochinka continued his domination on vault as he notched a score of 15.10. Pochinka tallied that score or higher in all six meets he competed in this season.
 
“It’s not an easy thing to [do],” head coach Mike Burns said. “He has been a rock for us and a great spark for the team.”
 
The meet might have slipped away from the Gophers at the parallel bars, where they posted their lowest team score of the night, 69.70. Mannon and Jaciuk struggled, as each fell and scored lower than expected.
 
“Ellis had been dealing with a dislocated shoulder from the Big Ten [championships], and Steve made some uncharacteristic mistakes,” Burns said.
Nine Gophers advanced to the individual event preliminaries, and six moved on to compete for NCAA event titles.
 
“Six guys in the finals is pretty unheard of,” Burns said.
 
When the event finals were finished, five Gophers earned All-American honors, tying the Gophers record under Burns for most All-Americans in a season.
 
For the seniors, Mannon took 7th place on pommel, and Jaciuk tied for 3rd on high bar.
 
“To finish on a high note is great for the seniors. They stuck their dismounts and were rewarded for it,” Burns said. “But it was a bittersweet pill to swallow for Ellis, who couldn’t defend his pommel title.”
 
Two underclassmen earned All-American awards for their performances on floor. Liebler tied for 3rd, and freshman Joel Gagnon tied for 6th, giving Minnesota a bright outlook for the future.
 
“Their performance sets a standard that they will hold for themselves and the team going forward,” Burns said.