Minnesota looks for redemption at NCAAs

The Gophers were only .2 points away from NCAA team finals last season.

Sophomore Yaroslav Pochinka competes on the still rings at the Sports Pavillion on Feb 13, 2016.

Image by Maddy Fox, Daily File Photo

Sophomore Yaroslav Pochinka competes on the still rings at the Sports Pavillion on Feb 13, 2016.

by Thomas Jaakola

The Gophers are aiming for redemption at the NCAA Championships this year.
Minnesota has not competed in team finals since 2007, but last year it failed to advance by a slim margin. The team finished 0.2 points behind Penn State in the qualifying round in 2015, but this season the Gophers will attempt to make up the difference.
“Our goal is obviously to make it to day two, to team finals,” head coach Mike Burns said. “We were really close last year, and it was kind of a heart-breaking moment for guys and for the staff and for the whole school. And to be that close and to taste it and to have it kind of taken away from you as you’re just about to eat into that big, juicy rib-eye steak … it was tough.”
No. 5 Minnesota will compete in the qualifying rounds on April 15 at Ohio State. The top three teams from each session will advance to the team finals.
The Gophers’ opponents in their session this year are No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 California, No. 8 Penn State, No. 9 Nebraska and No. 12 Navy.
“Our first and second guy on each event in the lineup are probably the key guys. There is a lot riding on them for us to be successful,” Burns said.
One of the Gophers’ most important gymnasts is junior Zach Liebler, who was ranked No. 1 on the floor exercise earlier in the year but has fallen to No. 11.
Liebler’s ranking dropped after a poor performance at the Big Ten Championships while battling an illness, but his high score of 16.150 is still the best score in the nation this year.
Sophomore Yaroslav Pochinka also was the top-ranked gymnast in his best event this year, the vault, but he is currently ranked third.
He took 10th at the Big Ten Championships with a score of 13.875. The sophomore said his goal is to show what he’s capable of at the NCAA Championships and help his team advance to the finals.
The Gophers put up their second-lowest team score of the year at the Big Ten Championships, but sophomore Joel Gagnon said the team still feels confident heading into the NCAAs.
“It’s been a great season, definitely building momentum towards this last meet,” Gagnon said. “All of our routines are at a pretty high level that if we have a pretty good hit percentage, we’ll be able to qualify to the second day.”
If the Gophers are able to make it to team finals for the second time in Burns’ tenure, the head coach said it would cap off what’s already been a special season.
“We’ve done a lot of really monumental things, and I think we’ve taken the Minnesota gymnastics program to a new level this year,” Burns said. “These guys have taken that and run with it this season. It’s been a lot of fun to see the desire to take the things to the next level — not just be satisfied with good gymnastics but really strive for great gymnastics.”