Mannon takes home his first title on pommel horse

Minnesota stumbled out of the gates and never recovered en route to fifth place.

Minnesota sophomore gymnast Ellis Mannon performs his parallel bars routine Saturday, March 2, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

Daily File Photo; Jaak Jensen

Minnesota sophomore gymnast Ellis Mannon performs his parallel bars routine Saturday, March 2, 2013, at the Sports Pavilion.

David Nelson

When the Gophers missed their first routine Friday night, perhaps it was a sign the Big Ten meet wouldn’t go in their favor.

Minnesota struggled to establish any semblance of momentum until the second part of the competition, and by then, the hole was too deep.

The Gophers placed a disappointing fifth at the Big Ten championships, their worst finish of the season.

“It was a bit of a struggle,” head coach Mike Burns said. “That outcome wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for.”

Minnesota stumbled out of the starting blocks on high bar, posting a score of 68.95 after averaging 70.513 this season. After posting similar subpar marks on floor, senior Zach Chase said the team needed a spark.

“It really brings out the leadership that we need to play a role in,” he said.

Chase and the seven other seniors provided that spark, and the team rallied down the stretch.

“In spite of the fact we started out very rough,” Burns said, “we did battle back, and we never gave up. … I was proud of that.”

Though the team didn’t finish as high as expected in the team standings, Minnesota still qualified four competitors in five of the individual event finals  a day later.

“I told them when we lined up before we started warm-ups that today was about redemption,” Burns said. “I said, ‘We didn’t do what we came here to do last night, so it’s up to you four guys to go out here and represent the Gophers.’

“I guess they took that to heart.”

Gophers junior Ellis Mannon definitely did. Mannon performed second to last on the pommel horse Saturday night and said he was a little nervous before his routine.

“It’s a tough environment in the finals,” Mannon said. “I was just trying to concentrate on doing my set the best I could.”

Mannon was in good position after none of the six gymnasts that performed before him posted a score higher than 14.7. He took the apparatus and posted a 15.325 to move into first place.

Still, he had to sit and watch as Penn State’s Craig Hernandez went last. Hernandez fell shy of Mannon’s score, and Mannon captured the first Big Ten title of his career.

“That was probably the best routine I’d ever done,” Mannon said. “I guess it came at a good time.”

Mannon represents Burns’ first Big Ten champion since Chase won on vault as a freshman.

“It’s just great when you’re walking through the arena after your gymnast wins the title and everyone’s patting you on the back,” Burns said. “It makes you realize all the hard work pays off.”

Chase took third on vault in the final Big Ten meet of his career.

“It was great,” Chase said. “I spent my freshman and sophomore year on the podium, and to come back after surgery last April … was a pretty awesome feeling.”

Minnesota sophomore Jack Metcalf took fifth on still rings after producing some of his best scores of the season.

And junior captain Steve Jaciuk took fifth and seventh on parallel bars and high bar, respectively.

Burns said even though the squad didn’t finish as high as it wanted in the team standings, he was happy to return with some hardware.