Gophers sixth at NCAAs

Minnesota moved on to NCAA team finals for the first time since 2006.

Gophers Junior Zach Liebler competes on the vault at the Sports Pavilion on Mar. 5, 2016.

Image by Daily File Photo

Gophers Junior Zach Liebler competes on the vault at the Sports Pavilion on Mar. 5, 2016.

by Thomas Jaakola

Nine years and one heartbreakingly close finish later, the Gophers found themselves back in NCAA team finals this weekend.
Minnesota was one of six team finalists at the NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, and the Gophers placed sixth one year after missing the cut by .2 points.
“These guys did a phenomenal job,” head coach Mike Burns said. “You can’t get too disappointed because we took this program to a new level, I think. Once you get to this meet, then you’re in a different league, so we’re at the bottom of that league. But we’re in that league, so I’m liking that.”
The Gophers scored 424.400 points in the team final, while champion Oklahoma scored 443.400.
Minnesota’s best event was the vault, where the team’s score of 73.300 ranked fourth.
“During the meet, we had these starts and stops. We had some good momentum, then had a setback, [then] good momentum, then had a setback [again],” Burns said.
“Some of the hits were lower scores than we were used to, so it gets a little discouraging when you think you’re doing good routines and the judges don’t agree with you.”
Three Gophers gymnasts earned four All-American honors at the meet. Junior Zach Liebler tied for seventh on the vault with a 15.100 and tied for eighth on the floor with sophomore Joel Gagnon with a 14.650.
“It was intense. It was very loud, [and] it was fun,” Liebler said. “It was definitely a great feeling … [being Minnesota’s] first team [in the finals] since 2007. I’m happy that we were the team that was able to do that for the program.”
Freshman Justin Karstadt won the team’s last All-American award after placing eighth on the pommel horse with a 14.950.
Burns also earned an award before the competition began on Thursday, as he was named the Central Region Head Coach of the Year. Assistants Russ Fystrom and Kostya Kolesnikov shared Central Region Assistant Coach of the Year honors.
Minnesota qualified for team finals the next day, finishing second in its semifinal round behind Oklahoma.
“We wanted to [finish] higher, but unfortunately, we couldn’t pull it together. But I’m still super proud of the team because from day one, our goal was to make the NCAA finals,” Karstadt said. “It was on our whiteboard, and we’d look at it every day, so just getting to finals was an accomplishment in itself that made us all very proud.”