Minnesota opened its home schedule with a convincing 430.600 - 404.450 win against Air Force on Saturday afternoon. The Gophers recorded the top two scores in all six routines, which included the top five marks on floor routine and the top four scores on the horizontal bar.
"We knew coming in we were a better team and we just hit better today as well," said Gopher coach Mike Burns. "It was nice to have an increase in our hit percentage. Last week, we counted eight missed routines. So far, I think we have counted two for today."
Minnesota scored a 425.750 at the Windy City Invitational last week, but was on top of its game against Air Force. In fact, Burns said he is pleasantly surprised by his team’s performance this year.
“To be honest, I think they are (a little ahead) of where I expected at this point,” said Burns. “My general impression right after this meet is that our guys really stepped up.”
One gymnast who stepped us was Josh Wokurka. The redshirt junior from Illinois recorded career highs on the floor exercise (first, 15.200) and the still rings (fourth, 14.800). Both routines were highlighted by a stuck dismount.
Wokurka cited his strong day to the mental preparation he does prior to meets.
“It all comes down to training, not just physically, but also mentally,” said Wokurka. “If you go through your routines enough in your head then it is like you have done it a million times already before you raise your hand to perform.”
Like Wokurka, Ellis Mannon also recorded a career high on Saturday, as he won the pommel horse with a 15.1000. His previous career high was a 14.900, which he registered at the 2012 Winter Cup.
“We knew he was capable of that, so it was nice that he was able to put it together at home,” said Burns.
Another gymnast who turned Burns’ head was junior Nathan Fortunato, who made his Gopher debut against the Falcons. Fortunato competed in the pommel horse (sixth, 12.850) and parallel bars (seventh, 13.950) and impressed his coach.
“It was awesome to see Nate make the lineup,” said Burns. “He got through his routines and it was just really good to see him get out there and have a chance to show what he is capable of doing. I am proud that was able to take advantage of a great opportunity.”
It was an interesting week for Minnesota, as the Gophers battled the flu early in the week, started school on Tuesday and weathered sub-zero temperatures en route to early morning training.
“It would be nice if everything was perfect and went according to plan, but that does not always happen,” said Burns. “You have to adjust on the fly and these guys are really beginning to figure that out. I am very pleased with today, but I think there is even more in the tank. So that is a good sign.”
One routine where Burns would like to see the Gophers improve is the pommel horse. Mannon (15.100) and Harris Coleman (14.700) led the Gophers in the routine, but Minnesota’s team score of 68.350 was its lowest in the meet.
“We had a couple guys fall off,” said Burns. “We had a decent score, but we need to hit 70.000. That is really our goal. We need to hit 70.000 everywhere.”
The Gophers return to action at home next weekend when they host Nebraska and UIC in the John Roethlisberger Iceberg Invitational.