Both Minnesota gymnastics teams fell one place short of reaching their postseason goals.
The men missed the podium at the Big Ten championships and ended in fourth. The women placed third at NCAA regionals and failed to advance to the NCAA championships. The team’s season is now done, although two women’s gymnasts will compete at nationals.
Minnesota’s women’s team finished according to its seed at the NCAA regional in Salt Lake City.
The Gophers third-place score of 194.8 points fell short of Nebraska (196.525) and Utah (196.825). Those two teams will advance to the NCAA championships.
“We started off pretty rough,” head coach Meg Stephenson said. “We were excited to get back up to our third spot after the way we had started off.”
Two gymnasts missed their routines on uneven parallel bars and another did the same on balance beam. At the halfway point, Minnesota had fallen below some unseeded teams.
“We huddled up, and we reminded ourselves that we are a great team and we’ve done well all year, and now is not the time to doubt that,” Stephenson said.
The Gophers managed a turnaround on their last two events. Kayla Slechta finished in a tie for second on the vault with a 9.9. Janell Campbell tied for third on floor exercise with a 9.875.
Although the comeback was not enough to prolong the team’s season, two gymnasts did qualify for the NCAA women’s championships April 20-22 in Duluth, Ga.
Dusti Russell (39.125 points) and Slechta (39.025) placed fifth and seventh, respectively, in the all-around competition. They placed the highest of all gymnasts except those from Utah and Nebraska.
“If you can’t go as a team, it sure helps to be represented in some way,” Stephenson said.
Georgia Dabritz, sister of Minnesota men’s gymnast Russell Dabritz, will advance to nationals with Utah. She also won uneven parallel bars with a 9.9.
Men fourth at Big Ten championships
Illinois’ men’s team won its fourth consecutive Big Ten title with 352.95 points. Michigan (351.85, second place) and Penn State (350, third) all finished ahead of Minnesota’s 345.8 points at the Big Ten championships in Iowa City, Iowa.
Although some teams had byes and thus lower scores, the Gophers’ first three rotations on still rings, vault and parallel bars were enough to lead at the halfway point.
The last three rotations were not as clean, especially pommel horse. In the team’s final event, two gymnasts fell off the apparatus and one struggled with his dismount, head coach Mike Burns said.
“It was a tough event to finish on for us and we didn’t quite finish the way we would’ve liked to,” Burns said. “We were hoping to get in the top three.”
Minnesota’s performance at the team competition Friday still qualified several gymnasts for the individual event competition Saturday.
Zack Chase placed second on vault, a step down on the podium from last year. His 15.3 stood for most of the event until the last gymnast, Paul Ruggeri from Illinois.
Both Chase and Ruggeri earned the same execution mark of 9.7, but Ruggeri’s vault was two-tenths of a point more difficult, which ultimately gave him the edge.
“It was the best vault I’ve done all year. Once I stuck it, it was going to be a waiting game,” Chase said. “There’s not much you can do when a guy does a harder vault than you and performs it very well.”
The difference in difficulty level between Minnesota’s and other conference teams’ routines separated the Gophers from the podium.
Freshman Steve Jaciuk tied for the highest execution mark on high bar but finished fourth because his difficulty level was more than a full point behind the eventual winner, Michigan’s Sam Mikulak.
Russell Dabritz had the highest execution score on rings by two-tenths of a point, but finished in a tie for fifth. His difficulty mark was also more than a full point behind champion Scott Rosenthal of Penn State.
The debate about the fairness of the international scoring system is nothing new, Burns said.
“I think it’s good because it allows a gymnast to push himself to the outer limit of what most people think is humanly possible,” Burns said. “The other side is … it’s like a circus routine and where is the artistic element of ‘artistic gymnastics’?”
Even though Minnesota struggled to match opponents with higher difficulty, Burns said there are no plans to change any routines before the NCAA championships April 19-21 in Norman, Okla.
Dabritz also placed fifth on parallel bars with a 14.55. Adam Kern finished 10th on vault with the same score. Harris Coleman and Kyle Banks took seventh and 10th on floor exercise, respectively.
Chase was the only Minnesota gymnast to earn All-Big Ten honors. He received a place on the Second Team.
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