Led by Fortunato, Gophers head to N.Y. for NCAA meet

In 2009, Minn. had a quick exit when it did not advance to the final six.

by Alexandra Pluym

The No. 7 Minnesota menâÄôs gymnastics team hopes to forget its lackluster fifth-place performance April 2 at the Big Ten Championship as they prepare their routines for this weekendâÄôs NCAA championships. The Gophers will be in West Point, N.Y., to face the seasonâÄôs fiercest competition beginning Thursday. Joining Minnesota at the meet will be 11 of the best teams in the nation: Illinois, Oklahoma, Michigan, Stanford, Ohio State, California, Penn State, Illinois-Chicago, Nebraska, Iowa and Temple. The teams will be divided into two groups, each with six teams. The Gophers expect to do well, but are not setting their standards too high. âÄúWeâÄôre going to be in a group of six, and weâÄôre hoping to make it in the top three,âÄù Minnesota head coach Mike Burns said. In 2009, the Gophers, who scored 351.05, finished fourth out of their six-team group behind Oklahoma (360.95) (who finished third overall), Illinois (359.3) and Ohio State (354.3). Three teams and the top three all-around gymnasts not on a qualifying team will advance from each group of six to the finals session. Also, the top three individuals on each event not on a qualifying team and not among the all-around competitors will advance. Senior Aaron Fortunato, who landed solid scores in all six events at the conference meet, said the results from the Big Ten Championship made him hungry to perform even better at the NCAAs. âÄúI almost went six for six [at the Big Tens], so IâÄôm going to push myself harder [this week],âÄù he said. âÄúI want to get in the 87-88 range [for the all-around score].âÄù At the 2009 NCAA Championship, Fortunato finished fifth in the all-around with a score of 85.9. Fortunato said this year he would like to become an All-American, meaning he would have to reach the top eight in the all-around. The senior also said that heâÄôd like to make the finals on the horizontal bar and the parallel bars. At the Big Ten meet, Fortunato advanced for the parallel bars. Last season at the NCAA meet, Fortunato finished 14th on the parallel bars earning 13.95 points and finished 18th on the horizontal bar with 14.05 points. The Gophers will not be able to benefit from a home crowd like they had last year at the Sports Pavilion, but Burns and the team hopes to get the most out of this yearâÄôs national meet. âÄúWeâÄôre going to stick to our plan we had in place,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to have more fun with it. ItâÄôs not about perfection.âÄù