Men ready for final event

The Gophers start the NCAA Championships at Penn State.

by Mark Heise

Hopes are high for the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team this weekend.

The Gophers head into the preliminary round of the NCAA Championships tonight at 7 p.m. at Penn State, with the opportunity to advance to the finals at 7 p.m. Friday. Individual competition takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Minnesota heads into the week with one main goal in mind – finding a way to make it to the second day.

“It’s been awhile since this team has been able to push its way into the finals,” junior Mitchell Mays said. “So that’s really our focus this time around. We’re really hoping and looking forward to that second day.”

And after failing to qualify for the final six spots over the last 13 years, that focus is finally looking realistic.

Only three of the six teams from the preliminary round move into the second day, and Penn State and Oklahoma seem like locks for the top two spots.

But the Gophers have proven to be able to keep up with the likes of those teams, and could top California, the only other legitimate competition, for the third and final spot.

Temple and Nebraska are not expected to move past the preliminary round. Temple’s scores have ranged from 129.35 to 208.4, while Nebraska topped out at 207.75. The other four teams average scores of more than 209 per meet.

The Bears are statistically the next weakest team, but have proven that they have the ability to post big scores as well.

Minnesota has a big advantage on the vault but will need to avoid some of the mistakes it made on the high bar and parallel bars at the Big Ten Championship in order to come out ahead.

“I feel like the last week of workout was geared towards identifying and addressing those problems,” coach Mike Burns said. “I think everyone’s looking pretty good. We’re definitely moving in a positive direction, and we expect to see some great results.

Oklahoma and Penn State have no real weaknesses, meaning the advantage the two teams hold over the Gophers on the still rings will have to be erased by strong performances on floor and vault, for Minnesota to pull off an upset.

While that would be a nice bonus for the team, it’s not the Gophers’ focus – reaching the second day of completion is.

With that as their main objective, sophomore Kit Beikmann said the team’s confidence is soaring entering the event.

“Everyone’s really psyched,” he said. “We’ve had time to prepare and fix any trouble areas, and we’re looking good in the gym. I’m expecting a pretty good weekend for us.”