Gophers look for redemption at Big Ten Championships

Minnesota hopes for a different result than a disappointing 2018 Big Ten Championship meet.

Shane Wiskus competes in the pommel horse at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019.

Jack Rodgers

Shane Wiskus competes in the pommel horse at the Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019.

Paul Hodowanic

Last year’s Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan didn’t not go as the Minnesota Gophers men’s gymnastics team had planned. The No. 2 ranked Gophers were the favorites heading into an event the team had prepared for all season. 

Senior Justin Karstadt remembered it being an odd meet. He recalls not being able to see the scores of his team or the other Big Ten opponents, which seemed weird. Almost all meets showed scores electronically on the video board. 

“We thought were doing pretty well,” Karstadt said. “It wasn’t anything spectacular, but at the end of the meet looking up and seeing us fifth, it was shell-shocking. We had no idea how that could happen.”

The Gophers posted a final score of 405.450, more than eight points behind the eventual champion, Illinois. 

Karstadt wasn’t the only member of the team left puzzled — head coach Mike Burns described the final score as a “monumental disappointment.” 

The Gophers passed their first test of redemption two weeks later at the NCAA Championships with a program-best finish of second place, scoring 411.923. 

Now, Minnesota has a chance to clear the bar that tripped it up a year ago as the team travels to Iowa City, Iowa for the Big Ten Championships on April 5. 

“We are going in this year not as highly ranked, so maybe that’s a good thing,” Burns said. “The anticipation of going in and walking away with it was pretty high and it didn’t work.”

Sophomore Shane Wiskus, who was recently announced as Big Ten Gymnast of the Year for the second consecutive year, remembers those expectations, and said it caused him to be the most nervous he has ever felt before a meet. 

“It ultimately led to a worse performance,” Wiskus said. “This year we haven’t really talked about it at all, so everyone is in a really good state of mind. … Obviously, we want to go in there and win, that’s our goal but no one expects to win.”

The No. 6 Gophers currently rank as the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, under Michigan, Illinois and Penn State. 

“We are going into it with a better attitude and I think it’s going to be very beneficial for us,” Wiskus added.

On the road back to the Big Ten Championships, Minnesota clinched a share of the Big Ten regular season title after beating Iowa and Penn State on senior night. The team not only needed to win their meet, they needed the bottom-ranked team in the Big Ten, Nebraska, to beat the top-ranked Michigan. The teams played the same time as the Gophers, leaving Minnesota in the dark about their fate for most of the meet. 

“Obviously we knew what had to happen to win the regular season, but it wasn’t even in my mind. My main focus was just getting ready for Big Tens,” Wiskus said. “But apparently the coaches and captains all knew that Michigan had lost the meet, but they knew that after vault. So I still had my parallel bar and high bar set to do, but they didn’t tell anyone else except for themselves.”

Wiskus remembers landing his high bar routine, the final Gophers’ routine of the night, to a surprisingly excited team. His score of 13.700 was his worst in a month, leaving him confused. 

“Everyone was cheering really loud … they were so excited and I was really confused,” Wiskus said. “Then they told me and I was in disbelief.”

The Gophers hope their next Big Ten showing will be more like their last meet than the disappointing finish of a year ago. The team hasn’t won the Big Ten Championships since 1995.