Young Minnesota squad begins Big Ten season

Mark Heise

Following a disappointing weekend in Chicago, a home-floor advantage could be what the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team needs.

The ninth-ranked Gophers host No. 6 Illinois on Saturday at 6 p.m. and need to cut down on the number of falls they suffered in the Windy City in order to stop the Illini.

But coach Mike Burns said he wasn’t too concerned coming into the meet.

“This week is a whole different scenario for us,” he said. “The first meet gives us a starting point. We want to minimize the mistakes we saw last week, and I think we’ve taken strides towards doing that at practice this week.”

Illinois, also at Chicago last week, finished 4.1 points ahead of the Gophers, thanks in part to junior Wes Haagensen who was named National Gymnast of the Week after grabbing the All-Around Title at the Windy City Invitational.

The Illini topped Minnesota by 1.3 points on the vault and finished 1.2 points ahead on the parallel bars.

The widest margin of victory came during the floor exercise, however, as Illinois controlled a 1.6 point advantage over the Gophers.

The point discrepancy is most surprising on the floor exercise, as it is usually one of Minnesota’s strongest events.

But last week’s mistakes on the floor didn’t seem to bother senior Jake Lee, who attributed the troubles to early season inexperience.

“The first meet of the year’s always going to be rough,” he said. “We had a lot of falls at that position. We’ve got a really young team this year, but with time I think we can be really competitive.”

With nine freshmen on a team, it would be understandable if the program needed some time to be able to compete. But Burns sounded confident, saying his team was ready to go for Saturday’s meet.

“Our whole season is geared around the Big Ten and NCAA Championships,” he said. “And ultimately that is what we’re preparing for. But we’ve also talked about what we need to do to be successful enough to beat Illinois.”

And that goal didn’t seem to be one that sophomore Kit Beikmann thought was out of reach.

“I think we’re pretty well prepared,” he said. “Last weekend was a little rougher than we would have liked, but I think going into this weekend, we have a very good shot at upsetting Illinois.”

Women hit the road

The women’s gymnastics team heads to Penn State for its first conference meet of the season Saturday.

The matchup promises to be a close one, as Minnesota enters the meet ranked 15th nationally, while the Nittany Lions are currently ranked 18th.

Penn State leads the all-time series 13-4, but the Gophers have won the last two meets, including a 195.150-194.925 win in the 2006 Big Ten Championships.