Men’s and women’s gymnastic teams look to build on past season’s success

The men’s team finished sixth at last year’s NCAA Championships and the women took 12th.

Sophomore Ciara Gardner competes on the Beam at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday.

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Sophomore Ciara Gardner competes on the Beam at the Sports Pavilion on Saturday.

Jack White

Expectations are high for the Gophers women’s gymnastics team after qualifying for the NCAA Championships last season, and it’s going well so far.

No. 21 Minnesota finished in first place out of four teams in its first road action, a quad meet, on Jan. 14 in College Park, Maryland.

“We’ve got a lot of new people in our lineup than we had last year,” said head coach Jenny Hansen. “Everyone’s roles have kind of shifted, and it’s been really fun to see the new people step in and the seniors step up.”

The Gophers have added seven freshmen and one transfer to their team this season, while veterans are stepping up.

Junior Ciara Gardner and senior Kaitlin Rahon both tied for first place in the beam at the quad meet. The duo helped the Gophers earn a 49.025 and a first-place finish in the event.

Gardner also finished first in the all-around.

Although Minnesota finished first in its most recent meet, the Gophers dropped their opening dual to Denver with a tight 195.875-194.725 final.

Senior Bailey Abernathy has earned two straight first-place finishes on the floor, however, which Hansen said is the team’s strongest area.

Her performance against Denver helped her earn Big Ten Event Specialist of the Week.

Minnesota advanced to the NCAA Championships for the first time since 2013 last season and is also coming off a regular season title in the Big Ten.

The Gophers lost two-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Year Lindsay Mable to graduation, but it gives other athletes new opportunities.

“We were a great team last year, but we did have a superstar like Lindsay Mable … but we don’t necessarily have a superstar on the team [this year],” Hansen said. “We’re a well-rounded team of really great athletes.”

The No. 5 Minnesota men’s team is coming off a top-10 finish at last season’s NCAA Championships and returned 18 out of 20 gymnasts for this season.

But the Gophers’ most recent meet showed that experience may not be enough for success.

Minnesota finished fourth out of six teams at the Windy City Invite in Chicago, Ill. on Jan. 14.

“We were a little rusty in some spots, but at the same time, I thought we did some things really … well,” said head coach Mike Burns. “We just got to get more guys doing things really … well.”

One of Minnesota’s 18 returners is junior Yaroslav Pochinka.

Pochinka finished the highest of any Gophers gymnast on vault with a score of 14.650, which was good for a second-place tie. Pochinka is coming off a top-10 finish in the event at the Big Ten Championships last season.

“The beginning tends to be pretty rough for everyone, and I came away pretty pleased with how I did,” Pochinka said. “No matter who it is, it’s a brand new environment every single season.”

Junior Joel Gagnon has earned All-American honors in his previous two seasons.

The team captain earned a 13.700 on the floor at the Windy City Invite for 15th place while teammates Zach Liebler and Alex Wittenberg placed 14th and 9th, respectively.

Minnesota is also coming off a year where it finished third at the Big Ten Championships. The team is currently ranked No. 3 in the conference.

“We were second going in, and we ended up fourth going out [in the Windy City Invite]” Burns said. “Reality is more what we focus on than prognostications.”