U has outside shot at NCAAs

by Susan Filkins

Last year at this time, junior Bob Hubbard entered the Cooke Hall Gym for practice in preparation for the men’s gymnastics NCAA East Regionals meet. But instead of warming up to work out, he was told to go home.
“I got there at 2:30 p.m., and a lot of the guys were already in the gym, and they were just sitting there,” Hubbard said. “I was like ‘what’, and somebody said to me, ‘season’s over, you can go if you want.'”
Shocked and disgusted does not even begin to describe what the Gophers felt. After competing in the Big Ten championships the week before, the Gophers trained an entire week preparing for regionals only to find out they had been bumped.
The weekend between the Big Ten meet and regionals, the Gophers were inactive as most teams were. But Michigan State and a couple of other teams competed that weekend and improved their qualifying scores. Those teams’ increased scores dropped Minnesota’s regional ranking and knocked them out of the race.
The top six teams in the region qualify for the NCAA regionals. Last year Minnesota was seventh.
The Gophers were especially bitter because Michigan State had qualified. Minnesota defeated the Spartans once at East Lansing, Mich., and twice on a neutral floor.
“It was ridiculous,” Gophers coach Fred Roethlisberger said. “We beat Michigan State three times last year, yet they qualified and we didn’t.”
This year the roles are reversed. Michigan State is sitting in the dreaded seventh spot, while the Gophers are headed to West Point, N.Y., this weekend to compete.
Minnesota is seeded fourth in the region. Other qualifiers include Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, Illinois and Illinois-Chicago.
Following the Big Ten championships this year, the Gophers had a high enough regional qualifying score to be within the top six teams in the region. But, for reassurance they scheduled a meet last weekend with Illinois-Chicago and Temple.
The Gophers score of 226.050 at Chicago allowed them to throw out a lower score from earlier in the season, raising their qualifying score.
Minnesota has a chance to qualify for the NCAA championships Apr. 17-19 in Iowa City. The top three qualifiers from the Eastern Region will advance to nationals.
“It’s going to be close,” Hubbard said. “We have to beat Penn State, that’s pretty much it.”
Penn State finished third in the Big Tens just .55 points ahead of the Gophers. Statistics and rankings prove Minnesota will have to contend with the Lions for the third spot.
“I think we can go to nationals no problem,” junior George Beatty said. “We just have to beat Penn State. I think it will be close. They didn’t have a tremendous meet at Big Tens, and we didn’t have a tremendous meet.”
Although the Gophers feel they need to contend with Penn State to make it to nationals, they also said they must put together the best performance they have all season.
“I’m not satisfied with anything less than a great meet,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m still looking for us to have a great meet. I think they’re ready too, but some of the guys need to get that in their mind that they can do it.”
Minnesota has been focusing on cleaning up little details in their routines for regionals. The concentration level in the gym has been much more intense.
“Everybody should be thinking that we don’t want to be done with this meet,” Hubbard said. “The main thing is that we need to focus and do everything we can, so we don’t have any regrets.”
The Gophers said they will not be satisfied unless they have the opportunity to compete in the NCAAs.
“Regionals doesn’t mean anything unless we go to nationals,” Beatty said. “You can come out with two feelings: We are a bunch of schmucks because we blew our chance, or we’re happy because we qualified for nationals.”
The Gophers are hoping for the latter.