New men’s gymnastics captains hope to lead by example

The Gophers have three new captains after losing 10 seniors last season.

Senior Shaun Herzog competes in the floor exercise at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 26.

Jack Rodgers

Senior Shaun Herzog competes in the floor exercise at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 26.

Paul Hodowanic

Following a second place finish at the NCAA Championships last season, the Minnesota roster went through a massive overhaul.

Ten seniors departed the team, including team captains Joel Gagnon and Alex Wittenberg, making way for a youth movement as nine freshman were added to this season’s team. 

To fill the void that Gagnon and Wittenberg left, the gymnasts and coaches named seniors Shaun Herzog, Vitali Kan and junior Timmy Kutyla as captains. 

“It didn’t surprise me that [Kan and Kutlya] are in there but Shaun [Herzog] is the brightest surprise of them all,” said head coach Mike Burns. “To see him evolve over the course of the last three years to become who he’s become now, it’s just one of my favorite stories to tell.” 

All three gymnasts treasure their new roles as they work to keep up with the success and culture of last season’s team. 

“I think for the most part we’ve tried to keep the same energy towards practice and competitions,” Herzog said. “I don’t think we really wanted to change much because last year’s team was incredible; the culture and everything was through the roof. We wanted to keep that rolling and see what we could do with that, and I think so far it’s gone pretty well.”

The No. 4 Gophers go into Saturday’s meet against No. 14 Arizona State and are looking to build off a strong first place finish last week against Iowa and UIC. 

In their new role, the captains said they hope that their performance on the mats will provide the guidance the young players need to succeed. 

“Our last few years, it has been pressure to show off what you are able to do, show off what you’re capable of, and now we are put in the spot because we were able to do that, all three of us,” Kan said. “Now it’s our responsibility to show the freshman where they’re supposed to be, how they’re supposed to do it.”

“I feel as if we lead by example,” Herzog said. “These freshmen look up to us and see how we compete, see how we deal with pressure and nerves in the competition.”

So far this season, the trio has provided the spark the team needs. Kan ranks as the No. 7 vaulter in the country and Herzog ranks No. 21 all around and No. 18 on the parallel bars. Kutyla is No. 20 on parallel bars and No. 24 in the high bar. 

“If you’re gonna talk the talk, you better be able to walk the walk,” Burns said. “I think because of what their capabilities are in the sport, they’ve been leaders by example of what the
expectations are. It’s all about achieving excellence … in our sport.”