Liebler grows in first year with Minnesota

by David Nelson

When men’s gymnasts move away from home and come to Minnesota, the team becomes a second family.

“When [new guys] come here, they realize, ‘I’m going to be put into situations I’m not used to. I don’t have my family. This is my family,’” senior Adam Kern said.

Kern and the rest of the men’s gymnastics team welcomed a new member to their makeshift family last fall with the arrival of freshman Zach Liebler.

“He’s a gamer,” Kern said. “He likes to joke around … [but] that kid, when it comes to a meet, will just flip it on and it will be a spectacular show.”

Liebler showed his talents early, sharing the Louis J. Cooke award given to the top performer at the alumni meet.

Since then, Liebler’s scores have increased in each meet he’s competed in, culminating in a 15.25 score on floor against Iowa two weeks ago.

“All the things we’ve kind of been harping on about … he took all that to heart,” head coach Mike Burns said.

That’s not a bad collegiate career start for someone coming from a town of 3,297 people.

Liebler grew up in Pine Island, Minn., and he was one of the few kids in the town who participated in gymnastics.

“Going through elementary school and middle school, nobody else at my school did it,” Liebler said. “So it was kind of hard at times because nobody really got it, but I just stuck through it.”

The young gymnast’s career began at age 5 with training at a local gymnasium five minutes from his house.

Though Liebler made strides there, he said he taught himself many techniques.

“I’ve learned a lot on my own,” he said. “I watch a lot of YouTube videos and kind of study how other people do stuff.”

When Liebler went to high school, he switched to Great Northern Gymnastics in St. Paul Park, Minn. He made the hourlong commute from Pine Island.

“My dad drove me up and down an hour each way,” Liebler said. “I got my license, and then I started driving it by myself.”

Liebler had the opportunity to showcase his talents to college coaches five years ago, when he attended the gymnastics camp the Gophers host over the summer.

Burns liked what he saw.

“He was doing stuff at that age that you’d go, ‘Wow,’” Burns said. “Most kids that age aren’t capable of that.’”

Five years later, Liebler’s dedication to the sport has paid off.

As a gymnast competing for the fifth-ranked team in the nation, the freshman said his confidence has grown with each meet.

“At the beginning of the season, I was really nervous to compete,” Liebler said. “Then as I keep going … it just feels like nothing.”

Kern said he feels like the team is set up well for the future.

“I feel like … they do have some good kids to build with,” Kern said. “They will do a good job with raising the level of this program within the next few years.”