Veteran men’s gymnastics duo readies for final Minnesota meet

Mitchell Soukup and Zach Liebler are the team’s lone seniors this season.

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

Daily File Photo

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

Jack White

Senior Mitchell Soukup said that this last week is the epitome of what he has worked for in his four years with the Gophers.

Soukup, along with fellow senior Zach Liebler, heads to the NCAA Championships this weekend, which will be the duo’s final event of their collegiate careers.

“Everyone says it’s going to go fast, but you don’t really realize it until it’s here,” Soukup said. “I’m pretty content with [competing one more time].”

The two gymnasts have fought through adversity during their time with Minnesota. Head coach Mike Burns said he admires this year’s senior class for its resilience.

“Both of them have been dealt some pretty bad hands in terms of their health,” Burns said. “Gymnastics can be tough on the body, and they both have had to deal with some serious issues.”

Liebler met Burns prior to competing for the Gophers.

“We’ve known each other a long time, and I think it has provided a lot of trust for us,” Liebler said. “He’s always got our best interest at heart.”

Liebler heads to the NCAA Championships with All-American honors in the vault on one occasion and on the floor two times.

In Minnesota’s last meet, Liebler earned a fourth-place finish on the vault at the Big Ten Championships. The senior also tallied a 13.750 in the championship’s first day on floor.

Soukup, who specializes in the rings, sat out his first year with the team due to a series of injuries.

He has dealt with even more adversity in his senior year — he has to go through shoulder surgery at the conclusion of this season — but has kept his motivation as his final meet approaches.

“My body is on the brink of just running out on me,” Soukup said. “[I’m] pretty hurt, but I’m ready to go out one more time.”

Soukup finished in ninth place on the rings at the conference championships two weeks ago.

Burns said his favorite memory of coaching Soukup was his performance at the Big Ten Championships.

“That’s going to stick in my mind, and just the celebration moment right after that was pretty special,” Burns said.

Soukup and Liebler have been roommates all four years they have competed with the team. The two came to Minnesota as the only male gymnasts in their class.

“We got roomed together in the dorms freshman year,” Soukup said. “He’s developed into one of my best friends.”

One season ago, Soukup finished in 36th place on the rings at the NCAA Championships. He earned a 14.450 on the rings at the Big Ten Championships prior to the NCAA Championships in 2016 and placed ninth.

Liebler will be honored beyond competition at the NCAA Banquet Thursday as he is one of eight finalists for the Nissen-Emery Award, an award given to the nation’s most outstanding senior gymnast.

Liebler and Soukup will both look to help their team advance past the qualifying round and to the finals on April 22.

“[We] have to make the team finals,” Liebler said. “Aside from that, hopefully looking for that podium finish, top-three.”