Walk-ons acting as a motor for Gophers

The deciding moment Saturday night for the menâÄôs gymnastics team came when sophomore Ali Aleiou raised his hand for the judges and performed his high bar routine. By the time Aleiou was finished, the Sports Pavilion had erupted in applause and screams. According to head coach Mike Burns , Aleiou provided the spark for the rest of the high bar team that led Minnesota to a comeback upset against NCAA champion Casey SandyâÄôs No. 5 Penn State team. âÄúItâÄôs amazing what something like that can do for the psyche of the team,âÄù Burns said. Also in that moment, Aleiou, a walk-on for the Gophers, made a statement of his own in solidifying his spot in the lineup. He couldnâÄôt have been any happier; for the rest of the night it was all smiles and thank yous to Burns. But Burns, a former Penn State walk-on himself , knows who the credit really belongs to: Aleiou. Burns has seen his own walk-ons shine in competition already this year. âÄúI just look at the walk-ons as like the motor that holds the team together,âÄù Burns said. For scholarship athletes, itâÄôs perhaps an easier track to competition, but for walk-ons, itâÄôs undoubtedly a challenge. âÄú[Recruits] are expected to be great, and walk-ons are constantly having to fight for their chance on the team,âÄù senior Kit Beikmann said. Aleiou, a high-bar specialist , fought as hard as anyone for two years to claim a spot in the lineup. And to Beikmann, another walk-on, Aleiou proved to the team that he belongs with the top-12 gymnasts. Beikmann is delighted to have one more walk-on along his side. âÄúI have a special place for all the walk-ons in my heart just because I understand what itâÄôs like to be where he is,âÄù Beikmann said. Beikmann would have never imagined he would be where he is today. Once just another walk-on freshman, today he is an accomplished and respected captain for one of the most competitive gymnastics programs in the country. âÄúKit is a great leader for us. He gets us pumped up before the meets, makes sure we stay together as a team, and make sure focus stays with us throughout the entire competition,âÄù junior Andre Berry said. And this after Beikmann didnâÄôt even realize his full potential until the beginning of his sophomore year. It was then he told himself what he believes is true for all walk-ons who one day hope to be a part of the lineup. âÄú[When given the opportunity], you have to go out and perform, he said.âÄù In his sophomore year, Beikmann was one of the top performers for the Gophers, winning a Big Ten championship on the pommel horse. Last year he finished runner-up in the same event. According to teammates, he has become a model for all walk-ons, and itâÄôs one of the reasons heâÄôs a captain. Walk-ons like freshmen Michael Morse and Adam LaFleur, sophomore Travis Heaver and junior Chase Etem have watched Beikmann lead by example and help his teammates reach their full potential. But these guys will have to follow the lead of Aleiou and Beikmann in working hard and eventually reaching the top. âÄúYou have to put in the time and show them that youâÄôre willing to make the sacrifices to make this happen,âÄù Beikmann said.