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Gophers men’s gymnastics takes fifth in NCAA championships

Gophers senior Shane Wiskus became the first Gopher since 2002 to win multiple individual titles at the same NCAA championship.
Image by Emily Urfer
Senior Gymnast Shane Wiskus does his routine on the vault at Maturi Pavilion on Saturday, March 6. The Gophers won against Penn State.

The No. 10 Gophers men’s gymnastics team totaled 406.291 points at the NCAA championships to finish in fifth place Saturday night, concluding the end to its 118-year history as a program.

“There were a few moments tonight where the eyes were misting up; there was the excitement of this weekend mixed with the disappointment of tonight’s result and not getting into the top four, and that’s just what sports provide,” Gophers head coach Mike Burns said. “It provides entertainment, it provides drama, it provides excitement, it provides disappointment, it provides so many things, and that’s just what’s so cool about sports.”

“I’ve been very blessed in my life to be a part of something pretty special here through sports.”

The Gophers proved many people wrong as they finished in the top three of their qualifying session to advance to the national championship. Over the past couple of weeks, they finally had their best lineups competing and put together some of their season-best performances when they needed them the most.

“The team did a phenomenal job,” senior Shane Wiskus said Saturday. “They made huge improvements from yesterday. It was just really emotional. Competing the last time all together and especially at the end here, it was just a ride. It was a great competition. We had a season-high team score, so I could not have been more proud of these guys.”

Throughout the season, many of the Gophers’ gymnasts were out of lineups due to injuries; some were competing through pain, and Wiskus missed many meets as he continued to prepare for the Olympic trials. Their regular-season record of 1-5 did not necessarily represent what the team was capable of accomplishing.

“For the first time, I think you saw the Minnesota Golden Gophers,” Wiskus said on Friday when the team qualified for the national championship. “We had everyone back in — fully healthy rosters. We were confident going into the competition. We knew what we were capable of.”

Saturday night was an emotional rollercoaster for the Gophers as they closed out their program’s history in Minneapolis at Maturi Pavilion.

“The whole meet I was actively trying to catch those moments of, ‘This is it,’” junior Mike Moran said. “Everybody’s hugging, cheering together. So each one of those, I tried to actively remember [each moment] as it is. It is tough knowing throughout the whole meet that once you hit that final dismount, you’re done.”

After Saturday night’s competition concluded, the team gathered for one last time.

“We were just enjoying being together for the last time, soaking in those few moments,” Wiskus said. “We made it [to the finals], proved a lot of people wrong and showed them that we have more left in our tank. [Burns] was just telling us how proud he is of each and every single one of us and wished us the best of luck for our futures.”

As Burns reflected on that last team gathering during Saturday night’s press conference, he grew emotional — and rightfully so.

“That was when the eyes got a little misty,” Burns said. “I told them how much I appreciate all they all put up with and all they managed in the past nine months. It was a special moment. I told them how proud I was of them, how happy I was for what they did.”

An upset advancement to many, a full roster to the Gophers

On Friday evening, the Gophers set a new season-high team score of 404.623 to secure a top-three spot in their qualifying session and earn the opportunity to compete in the national final.

Over the halfway point going into rotation five, the Gophers sat at the number five spot in the standings. They needed two big team performances from their vault and parallel bars lineups to give them a chance to compete in Saturday night’s finals. Both lineups got the job done.

The Gophers’ vault team achieved its season-high team score, totaling 71.698, led by Wiskus, who scored a massive season-high 14.766 to secure the individual event title.

Sophomore Donte McKinney’s season-high score on the vault came at a perfect time as he scored 14.200.

The other Gophers gymnasts in the vault lineup, junior Ben Eyles (14.466), Moran (14.300) and senior Colton Dee (13.966), mirrored Wiskus’ and McKinney’s successes to round out the rotation.

As a result of the massive performance from the vault lineup, the Gophers sprung into third place heading into the final rotation, leading fourth-place No. 7 Iowa by 1.402 and No. 6 Penn State by 5.033.

The Gophers’ parallel bars team needed to follow up the vault’s lineup total with another big-time team score to close things out and secure the third spot. They had the power to control their destiny.

Led by Wiskus’ event title-winning 14.600, the parallel bars team totaled 66.532, enough to hold off the trailing Hawkeyes and Nittany Lions.

McKinney (13.200), sophomore Crew Bold (13.066), junior David Pochinka (13.033) and sophomore Victor Perez (12.633) rounded out the parallel bars lineup, all getting things done.

“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Burns said. “They rallied those last two events and got the job done. After pommel horse and rings, things were looking a little bleak, but we knew that there was a lot of gymnastics left. To make the comeback and to make the memories that these guys made tonight for Gopher athletics and Gopher gymnastics, I don’t know if you could’ve written a better script.”

Wiskus was magnificent as always for the Gophers, posting a new career-high all-around total of 86.464, highlighted by an incredible career-high score of 15.100 on the floor to secure the individual event title.

“I’ve been training like this for the past six months,” Wiskus said. “I’ve been putting in the numbers and doing everything I can to maximize all my scores. I played it pretty conservative [this morning] and took out some of my riskier skills, so I actually took out about a point in start value. I think this was exactly the way I practiced.”

The cherry on top

On Saturday night, the Gophers beat their season-high team score from the qualifying round by totaling 406.291 to finish in fifth place in the nation.

Early on in the second rotation, the Gophers’ floor team put on a show, totaling 70.599. Wiskus led the way by posting another astonishing 15.100, tying his career high from the night before.

Junior Garrett Kasiski tied his career high, and Moran tied his season high after they both scored matching 13.900s, while Eyles earned his career high after scoring 13.666. Dee rounded out the magnificent rotation, scoring 14.033.

The Gophers’ vault team shined once again for the Gophers, totaling 70.698. Moran and McKinney beat their season bests, scoring 14.666 and 14.466. Eyles (14.600), Wiskus (13.500) and Dee (13.466) rounded out the vault lineup.

The Gophers had strong performances all night from their lineups, but competing against the best of the best can sometimes be too much to overcome.

Wiskus fell just short of earning his first all-around national title after totaling 84.866, just 0.198 behind Stanford gymnast Brody Malone, marking the third time in Wiskus’ career he has finished in second place. His fall on the vault proved to be the deciding factor in falling short of the title he had been seeking throughout his collegiate career.

The final scores from Maturi Pavilion

1. No. 3 Stanford – 414.521
2. No. 1 Oklahoma – 411.591
3. No. 2 Michigan – 410.358
4. No. 4 Nebraska – 406.624
5. No. 10 Minnesota – 406.291
6. No. 8 Illinois – 397.991

Accolades, accolades, accolades

Wiskus, Moran and McKinney were named to the NCAA All-American team following Saturday night’s championship. To be named an All-American, a gymnast needs to finish in the top eight of their respective event or events.

Wiskus garnered All-American honors in six events: still rings (No. 1), parallel bars (No. 1), floor exercise (No. 2), high bar (No. 2), pommel horse (No. 8) and all-around (No. 2).

Moran earned All-American honors on the vault (tied No. 5), while McKinney earned All-American honors on the high bar (No. 5).

The program comes to an end

This year’s national championships marked the end to a historic Gophers gymnastics program, after the Board of Regents voted in October to eliminate the men’s gymnastics program, along with two other men’s sports. Burns told his gymnasts to use their disappointment of the cut of their program as fuel for whatever comes next.

“I told them they could be disappointed, and they should be,” Burns said. “I also told them to use that disappointment as high octane fuel for whatever the next thing is, and disappointment drives action.”

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