Gophers’ vault proves to be strong suit

Minnesota’s 72.01 in the vault is ranked No. 2 in the country.

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






The Gophers’ best event this season has been one they can’t practice
in their own facility.

Minnesota has to go to the women’s gymnastics facility, Peik Gym,
once a week to practice vault; however, the team ranks No. 2 in season average
for the event via roadtonationals.com.

“Some of the gymnasts were touching the beam on the ceiling [in
the men’s facility],” said assistant coach Kostya Kolesnikov, who works with
the gymnasts on vault. “It was dangerous for the students to perform the
high-quality, risky vault.”

One of the reasons Minnesota practices the vault just once per
week is because the event is physically demanding. Junior Joel Gagnon said that
practicing vault once per week simulates an actual meet.

“It puts a little more pressure on that vault training day, which
is what you’re going to feel during competition,” Gagnon said. “[It’s] actually
really helpful.”

Junior Yaroslav Pochinka leads the way for Minnesota in the vault.
Pochinka’s 14.825 ranks first among Gophers gymnasts for season average in that
event. He is also tied for second in the country in vault via roadtonationals.com.

“[Pochinka] is a machine,” said senior Zach Liebler. “He just
never misses [vault] and it’s always near perfect.”

Gagnon placed just behind Pochinka in the dual against University of Illinois at Chicago, posting a 14.550 and a second place finish. Gagnon competed in the
vault just once last season, but he has been in the vault lineup six times this
season.

Minnesota is just behind No. 1 Oklahoma for season average in the
vault. The Sooners bested the Gophers in the event when the teams faced off on
Feb. 10.

Senior Zach Libeler took home third place in the vault in
Minnesota’s most-recent competition. Liebler averages 14.500 for the vault this
season. He also finished seventh in the NCAA Championships for the event a season
ago.

The Gophers’ vault average is the highest season average of all
their events. Minnesota has six gymnasts who compete at a level of difficulty of
15.2 on vault. Sophomore Justin Karstadt competed at 15.2 for the first time
this season.

Minnesota had three upperclassmen and two sophomores in its vault
lineup last meet.

Every Gophers gymnast successfully performed their vault in the
team’s most-recent dual against University of Illinois at Chicago on March 18. The
Gophers earned the top-three places in the vault against UIC.

“It’s such a precision-oriented sport, that it’s easy to have mistakes,”
said head coach Mike Burns. “These guys have really tried to figure out a way
to eliminate those mistakes the best they can.”

At home, Minnesota’s crowd at the Sports Pavilion gets on its
feet and slow claps before Gophers gymnasts perform the vault.

“As a competitor, it really gives you a little bit of extra
motivation and fire,” Gagnon said. “It’s fun to have the whole [Pavilion]
behind you.”

Minnesota’s crowd will not play a factor the next couple weeks,
as the Gophers head on the road to compete against No. 6 Nebraska and then
travel to Champaign, Illinois for the Big Ten Championships.

“We’re going to be on the road,” Burns said. “We’re going to have
to create that environment ourselves.”