Both Minnesota gymnastics teams will have representatives compete at the NCAA championships this weekend.
The men’s team suffered a heartbreaking first-round exit in last year’s tournament. The Gophers finished fourth, one place lower than they needed to advance to the team final round.
This year, the goal remains the same, but the focus isn’t on the past.
“It’s the same situation every year; we’re trying to make it into that top-three,” head coach Mike Burns said. “What happened last year happened last year. It’s really immaterial as to how we approach this year.”
This year, No. 5 Minnesota is seeded third in its session. The Gophers will compete against host No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 4 Illinois, No. 8 California-Berkley, No. 9 Temple and No. 12 Air Force.
If the podium follows the rankings, Minnesota should move on to the team final.
“[They’re] all teams that have had a lot of successes this season,” Burns said. “Who’s in our session or who’s not in our session doesn’t really matter.”
Individually, none of the seven qualified Gophers gymnasts made it to the event finals last year. The highest finish was DJ Repp’s 16th place on the floor exercise. He was six places short of advancing.
Now a senior, Repp also placed 16th in the all-around competition. This year, Minnesota will not field any all-around competitors.
Repp missed out on the all-around competition at this year’s Big Ten championships as well. Burns instead chose freshman Ellis Mannon to represent the team, and he placed last.
Considering it may be Repp’s final meet of his gymnastics career, he said he was disappointed.
“I’m upset about it, but it doesn’t really impact the two events that I’m doing,” Repp said. “I’ve kind of just got to put it out of my mind.”
Individual events aside, Repp said he hopes the team makes team finals for the first time in his college career.
“Really, nothing else is on my mind, because after this weekend, I’m done,” Repp said. “It’s exciting, but it’s bittersweet at the same time.”
He said his goal is to “make team finals and All-American, that’s about all I can do. Other than that, I’m retiring.”
Minnesota will compete April 19 in Norman, Okla., in the second team qualifier of the NCAA championships. If the team finishes in the top-three, it will also compete April 20 in the team final. Individual event finals are April 21.
Gophers send two women to NCAAs
The Minnesota women’s team did not qualify for the NCAA championships, but two gymnasts will compete individually.
Sophomores Kayla Slechta and Dusti Russell qualified from their all-around scores at the NCAA regionals two weeks ago.
This will be the first time since the entire team qualified in 2002 that Minnesota will send more than one gymnast to the NCAA championships.
“I wish we had twelve girls going,” head coach Meg Stephenson said. “But it feels good to have two because then that shows that you really do have a strong team when you have more than one person advancing on.”
Slechta was the lone Gophers representative last year. She finished 29th overall in the all-around after a fall on the balance beam.
“[I’m] definitely going to hit all four events this year,” Slechta said. “I fell on beam last year, and I’m going to learn from that and try to bring it to this one and definitely improve.”
This will be Russell’s first time on the national stage. She said she is thankful to have a teammate with NCAA experience competing with her.
“It’s definitely going to be helpful,” Russell said. “We’re going to be rooming together all weekend. So, we’ll have fun, and we’re figuring out how to be there for each other during the meet.”
It may prove difficult to maintain a team atmosphere at the NCAA meet since Slechta and Russell will rotate in different sessions.
Russell will compete alongside No. 3 Oklahoma. Slechta will do likewise with No. 2 UCLA.
Coaching two gymnasts in different rotations will be complicated but not impossible, Stephenson said.
“I think we’ll just kind of play it by ear, but we certainly have capable coaches that we can divide up and get the job done,” Stephenson said.
Slechta and Russell will compete April 20 in Athens, Ga. If they qualify for any event finals, they will also compete April 22.
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