Men hit road, prepare for NCAA Championships

The Gophers had the sixth-highest qualifying score of the 12 teams competing.

Mark Heise

The next few days could be interesting for the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team.

After learning they received a bid to the NCAA Championships on Sunday, the Gophers are changing up their routine to prepare for their trip to Penn State, the site of the event.

After ending practice a little early to catch an evening flight to Harrisburg on Monday, the team finally arrived at Penn State early this morning.

“We’re going to let them sleep in, maybe get them some breakfast,” coach Mike Burns said. “But we want Tuesday to be our harder workout, so after that we’ll head over to the gym.”

There the team will get its first opportunity to get used to the “straight-out-of-the-box” equipment, as Burns called it.

The brand new equipment for the finals has potential to be a little slippery, but Burns said it is nothing a little chalk couldn’t fix.

“It’s definitely going to help getting down there a little early,” junior Mitchell Mays said. “Tuesday and Wednesday we get a chance to get comfortable with the equipment, and then Thursday we’re ready to go.”

Wednesday will be used as a buffer for the late-night travel and will also serve the purpose of last-minute tuneups before Minnesota heads into competition.

“That’s our chance to take care of whatever’s left to smooth over,” Burns said.

Thursday night, following the first prequalifying session, the Gophers’ shot at a national title will begin.

From the 7 p.m. start to the last performance, Minnesota will be working toward a top-three finish in its bracket, as those three from each bracket are the only teams to continue to the finals.

Penn State and Oklahoma are the frontrunners in the Gophers’ bracket, followed by California, Temple and Nebraska. And though it shapes up to be a tough draw, Minnesota has proven to be a team able to step up to a challenge.

In fact, the Gophers have been at the top level so consistently this season that Burns stopped considering it a step up.

“I think we’re already at that level,” he said. “At the Big Ten Championship I think we proved to the rest of the gymnastics world that we’re a quality team.”

And with that added confidence, Big Ten pommel horse champion Kit Beikmann said his team already had a goal in mind, something the team has failed to do for the last 13 years.

“I think the big goal for us at this point is to reach the second day,” the sophomore said. “Making it into the final day is a goal we feel is realistic this year, and we’re excited to try and make it happen.”