Gophers come up short at Big Ten championships

Senior Ellis Mannon defended his Big Ten pommel horse title with a victory.

Senior Ellis Mannon competes on the pommel horse against Iowa on March 7 at the Sports Pavilion.

Daily File Photo, Juliet Farmer

Senior Ellis Mannon competes on the pommel horse against Iowa on March 7 at the Sports Pavilion.

Brad Bobel

The Gophers had a hold on first place for five events on Friday.

But after a bye and a poor performance on the pommel horse — the Gophers’ last event — their Big Ten title hopes fell.

No. 6 Minnesota finished fourth with a score of 433.750. Host Penn State took the title with Illinois close behind in second and Michigan in third.

The Gophers’ bye helped slow down some of their momentum heading into the final rotation.

“[In byes], you lose a lot of energy and intensity, so we circled up before we went out and tried to get that intensity back,” senior Steve Jaciuk said.

But the pommel horse was too much, as Minnesota posted its second-lowest event score of the night. Defending Big Ten champion senior Ellis Mannon highlighted the event, recording a 15.

No other gymnast scored higher than 14.6 on the event, with two finishing below 14.

“We started off strong, and the guys stuck together,” head coach Mike Burns said. “It was a bittersweet moment [because] we didn’t get on the podium, but we performed well.”

Jaciuk and redshirt junior Jack Metcalf gave the team an early lead, scoring a 15.05 and 14.95, respectively, on still rings.

“We chose to start on rings for a reason,” Jaciuk said. “We are very strong on it and are one of the top teams in the nation on rings.”

Freshman Yaroslav Pochinka sustained the momentum by recording a 15.1 to continue his dominance on the vault.

As a team, the highest score of the night came on the parallel bars with Jaciuk posting a 15.35, earning him a second-place finish in the event.

“Seeing the first guys go and doing so well, it takes the pressure off the guys who still need to perform,” Jaciuk said.

In the next two events, the Gophers sustained their lead with strong showings on the high bar and floor before the pommel horse.

Despite the team’s subpar performance on the last event, eight Gophers advanced to Saturday’s individual event finals to compete for event titles.

Mannon put a stamp on his Big Ten career, defending his conference title on the pommel horse with a 15.525.

“It was better than last year. You have the target on your back now,” Mannon said. “I was the last one up, and I knew what I needed to do to score to keep the title.”

Pochinka, in his first Big Ten championship, continued his vault success from the night before, finishing second with a 15.25.

“He’s been so much of an injection of spiritedness,” Burns said. “His vaults have been phenomenal, and everyone on our team thought he should have won [the title].”

In addition, Jaciuk and junior Paul Montague took third and fourth, respectively, on the parallel bars.

“[Montague] hit one of his best routines all year,” Jaciuk said. “But it was frustrating. I didn’t want Ellis to be the only one to get gold.”