Focus on tenths as Gophers look to make first NCAA team finals since ’93

Coach Mike Burns is having his team focus on the little things at NCAAs today.

by Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s men’s gymnastics team hasn’t qualified for the team finals of the NCAA Championships since 1993, and some very strong performances are needed for it to break that streak this weekend.

Nonetheless, Gophers coach Mike Burns said the key will be the small things.

Minnesota is focusing on tenths heading into the first team session of the NCAA Championships today in West Point, N.Y. The Gophers will compete against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Stanford and William & Mary.

A top-three finish would advance Minnesota to the team finals Friday, with the individual finals Saturday.

“Rather than looking at it as this big monumental team thing, we’re looking at it as, ‘OK, we’ll chip away at it one tenth at a time with each guy,’ ” Burns said. “You add a tenth or two here and there, and all of a sudden, we’re up to that 220 (scoring) range.”

On paper, top-ranked Ohio State is clearly the top team, with an average score of 224.150 that is nearly four points better than the next highest team in the first session.

But Burns still said he feels his team is capable of qualifying for the finals.

“We’re looking at ‘Do your job, hit your routine and stick your landing, and get those extra two-tenths you missed at Big Tens,’ ” he said. “It doesn’t take much from an individual standpoint if everyone can do it.”

In Saturday’s individual event finals, a lot of focus will be on senior Guillermo Alvarez, as it has been all season.

Alvarez is ranked first in the nation on the floor exercise and vault, second in the all around and fourth on the pommel horse.

After earning the Nissen-Emery Award as the nation’s top senior Wednesday, Alvarez would appear primed for a run at a national championship.

“He can win the all-around,” assistant coach Kyle Zak said. “All he needs to do to win is hit the routines the best he can.”

After performing well on the floor all season, Alvarez faltered at the Big Ten Championships, scoring 8.300 – well below his national qualifying average of 9.775.

“I can’t fully put it behind me because, obviously, something went wrong,” Alvarez said. “But I’m a lot more confident (now). We’ve been doing the routines, my body’s feeling ready for it, and my mind’s feeling ready for it. So I’m ready to go.”

Burns said sophomore Jake Lee and senior Clinton Mays are other Gophers who have good chances of qualifying for the individual event finals in the all-around and still rings, respectively.

But the focus will stay on trying to qualify for the team finals, a goal Minnesota has had all year.

“Anything can happen on any given day,” Burns said. “What’s awesome about the meet is that it brings out the best in a lot of people.”