Men’s team, Kayla Slechta set to compete at NCAA championships

Of 12 teams, the Gophers men compete against 5 of them in the first session and must be in the top 3 to advance to the finals.

Nicolas Hallett

 

This weekend the menâÄôs gymnastics team heads to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the NCAA championships. Though winning the outright title isnâÄôt necessarily the expectation, the 8th-ranked GopherâÄôs shouldnâÄôt be excluded from consideration.

âÄúWinning the title would be hard to do,âÄù head coach Mike Burns said. âÄúBut we are here and anything can happen.âÄù

The championships begin Thursday and run through Saturday, and the countryâÄôs top 12 teams are split into two qualifying sessions, each of which contains six teams attempting to reach FridayâÄôs team finals. Saturday is host to the individual championships.

The Gophers will participate in ThursdayâÄôs afternoon session, where they will vie against the likes of No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Illinois, No. 5 Penn State, No. 9 Air Force and No. 12 UIC. To reach FridayâÄôs finals, the team must finish in the sessionâÄôs top three.

Individuals can also progress âÄî even if the team doesnâÄôt âÄî by placing in the top three of a given event, a feat accomplished by nine Gophers at last yearâÄôs nationals. That said, Burns is focused on where Minnesota can finish collectively.

âÄúOur goal is to make it to [Friday] as a team,âÄù he said. âÄúAll our decisions are geared around how we can get the best team score and individuals are âĦ the second priority.âÄù

Senior Michael Paulus was stoic in his comments on the high stakes of his final weekend of collegiate gymnastics.

âÄúIâÄôm trying not to think about it,âÄù he said. âÄúThinking about it doesnâÄôt make you any more prepared, itâÄôs not productive. Once the weekendâÄôs over IâÄôll have time to look back.âÄù

Under Burns, Minnesota has been to the team finals once before, in 2007. Overall, the Gophers have qualified for the NCAA championships 43 times.

Slechta is lone womenâÄôs representative

The womenâÄôs championships are also this weekend, but wonâÄôt include Minnesota as a team; the Gophers were knocked out at the NCAA regionals. Yet MinnesotaâÄôs maroon and gold will still make an appearance at nationals courtesy of Kayla Slechta.

Slechta qualified to compete at the national championships as an individual by placing fourth at regionals with her all-around performance.

Slechta, a second team All-Big Ten gymnast, will participate in all four events, though her best is the vault, womenâÄôs head coach Meg Stephenson said.

Finishing in the top-four of any of the events would give Slechta All-America honors, in addition to qualifying her for the finals. Gymnasts who place in the top-eight receive Second Team All-America standing, but do not advance.

âÄúThe fact that sheâÄôs here says a lot about her abilities,âÄù Stephenson said. Add the fact that Slechta is just a freshman makes her progress is all the more impressive.

âÄúI want to place on the podium,âÄù Slechta said. âÄúThatâÄôs my goal.âÄù