Jan. 11, 2014
By Ben Gotz
One of the longest streaks in Gopher Sports history continues. The Golden Gopher men's gymnastics team hosted their annual alumni meet today and for the 47th straight year the alumni emerged victorious. The streak appeared in jeopardy when the Gopher's varsity squad pulled within three-tenths of a point of the alumni with only one event remaining, but the alumni finished strong on the high bar and won by a final score of 423.1 to 422.
"Every year, it seems like there's a desire to beat the alumni," Minnesota head coach Mike Burns said. "But a 47-year winning streak is kind of hard to beat."
The alumni squad was overjoyed with the chance to show off their skills for a Minnesota home crowd again. However, the alumni meet also serves an important purpose for the gymnasts still with the program.
"It's a dress rehearsal for us," Burns said. "It gave us a chance to see who's ready and who needs a little more work."
Even in a losing effort, Burns was pleased with the effort from his squad.
"Overall our hit percentage was pretty decent for this early in the season," Burns said. "This is a great opportunity for these guys to knock the rust off their bodies and get ready for when our season officially starts next week."
The rust seemed to come off fast for the Gophers, and throughout the meet they appeared energized and excited to be competing again.
"There were a lot of great performances," Burns said.
Most notable were the two gymnasts honored with the Louis J. Cooke award, named after the program's founder and given annually to a top performer in every meet. Freshmen Zach Liebler and team captain junior Steve Jaciuk shared the award today.
"He really stepped up," Burns said, commenting on Liebler's first meet as a Gopher.
Liebler, the team's only freshmen, was dealing with a back injury early in the week, but he fought back to be one of the Gopher's main contributors.
"For him to go out and win the Cooke Award in his first meet, that's a sign of great things to come," Burns said.
As for Jaciuk, Burns simply stated: "He did what he does."
In addition to being a team leader, Jaciuk recorded the Gopher's second highest score of the day with a 15.00 in the high bar, where he stuck his landing.
The highest score for the Gophers in the meet was a 15.10 recorded by senior Zach Chase on the vault.
"He's still got it," Burns said, referring to Chase, a former Big Ten champion in vault.
Burns also mentioned he was happy to see Steffen Beck compete for the first time in a while after missing all of last season with a knee injury, and said he was proud of the performances of sophomore Paul Montague, senior Matt Frey and junior Ellis Mannon.
Before the meet began, the Gophers honored two fifth-year seniors who will not be competing this year in Harris Coleman and Josh Wokurka. Each had a year of eligibility remaining, but according to Burns they each decided the time was right to move on.
"It's always hard to see guys go," Burns said.
Even though Wokurka has ended his collegiate career, it doesn't mean he is done competing as a gymnast. Immediately after being honored as a departing senior, Wokurka began to warm up for the meet, only this time with the alumni.
The Gophers begin their regular season next week at the Windy City Invitational, where they will compete against several top tier Big Ten teams for the first time. Burns said he was encouraged by how his team competed today, but acknowledged they still have room to grow.
"If I was going to give us a grade, I'd say B+," Burns said. "Not quite `A' level yet, but we're pretty close."
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