Men’s gymnasts looking to make big statement

The Gophers will enter the championships ranked fourth in the Big Ten.

Mark Heise

The goal for the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team has been to peak at the end of the season.

The Gophers started off slow this season but have made definite strides, increasing their season-high score by 10.85 points by the end of the regular season.

Now Minnesota is looking for more, competing for the Big Ten Team Championships Friday at 7 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion, while the Big Ten Individual Championships start Saturday at 7 p.m.

“We’ve been continually improving over the course of the season,” coach Mike Burns said. “So instead of being in a maintenance mode we’re working toward moving to another level. We’re hungry for a championship and we’re ready to go.”

The Gophers, currently ranked fourth in the conference behind Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, have already proven to be tough at home this season, just missing an upset win over No. 1 Michigan on February 17.

And with a huge crowd expected for the tournament, Minnesota will be enjoying a home-gym advantage.

“It’s what we’ve been looking for all season and having it in our house is a huge advantage,” freshman Colin McGuire said. “We have a great fan base, and the energy that’s going to be created should really help us out.”

In order to bring a Big Ten Championship back to Minnesota for the first time since 1995, the Gophers will have to be at the top of their game in all six events.

Minnesota will begin on the rings and end on pommel horse, two events in which they are comparatively weaker compared to other teams, but McGuire said he feels the rotation will be a good one for his team.

“We’ve become more solid on both rings and pommel horse since the beginning of the season, and we feel we’re prepared to be successful on this rotation,” he said. “If we can put up a solid start on rings, we’ll really sail through our stronger events.”

Burns said the Gophers’ focus on rings is to hit their routines and stay close to the competition.

Should the team manage that, it will likely build momentum on vault, one of the Gophers’ strongest events.

Minnesota has three vaulters topping the nine-point barrier, making its lineup one of the strongest in the country.

“We just need everybody to land their vaults and we’ll be in good shape,” senior Steve Vuong said. “We’re one of the better teams, and I think coming off of a strong routine on rings will give us a great opportunity to build momentum.”

The Gophers will go from the vault to parallel bars and the high bar, two events which have been mostly solid.

“(Parallel bar) is usually pretty decent for us,” senior Jake Lee said. “We’re working on avoiding hand movement, but otherwise we’re doing alright.”

Lee called the high bar a more risky area, saying the key to success in that event would be to catch the bar following major releases.

In the final rotation, Minnesota is scheduled to begin on the floor, which should give the Gophers another chance to build a lead.

Assistant coach Konstantin Kolesnikov said he was excited for the meet, saying the meet could easily come down to the last event, or even the last routine.

Minnesota has put in extra time on the pommel horse to prepare for this, and should Kolesnikov be right, the Gophers can have faith knowing Lee has shined in many pressure situations in the past.

“If it comes to that, all I can do is treat it like any other meet,” Lee said. “The only other thing in my mind is that I’m not coming off the horse no matter what. This is our chance to explode and show people what we’re made of, and we don’t want to lose that opportunity.”