The Golden Gopher men’s gymnastics team will kick off the 2008 season this Saturday at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago, Ill. As the Gophers are about to embark on another competition season, senior captains Sergei Dmitriev and Steve Vuong sat down to talk about the team, getting ready for competition, and what they’re looking forward to in the upcoming season.
Your intrasquad meet happened over a month ago. What have you been working on since that exhibition meet?
SD: Basically, we’ve been trying to get more sets in to get ready for the season. We’re trying to get our stability, so we’ve been doing more sets. We’re trying to keep healthy too, so we’re not doing too much that we get injured, we’re taking care of ourselves so we can be ready for the season. We’re trying to keep a good balance between pushing hard but not too hard.
Do you feel like you’re ready to compete this weekend?
SV: There are some spots where we look a little rough, but overall I think we’re doing pretty well.
What events do you think are strengths for the Gophers this year?
Looking toward the end of the season, our strengths will definitely be our vault and floor, and possibly high bar.
SV: We’re pretty competitive on parallel bars and high bar, too. The only person we lost from last year on those events was Jake Lee.
SD: We finished sixth on rings at NCAA’s last year, so over the summer, we really worked on our strength. We’re a lot stronger, so hopefully we’ll be better on rings this year.
If you had to pick one of your teammates who has significantly improved since last season, and might surprise some people this year, who would that be?
SV: I would say Cole Storer. He was injured for a lot of the season last year, and was only able to do floor, vault and high bar for us. This year, he’s trying to return as an all arounder, he’s been working really hard in the gym. He’s looking really good this year.
The Gophers did really well at the end of the 2007 season, with a top-three finish at Big Tens, and a trip to the team finals at the NCAA meet. What kinds of things did the team do in the offseason to keep that momentum going into this season?
SD: Basically, we did the same thing as last year. In the offseason we train new skills, we know we need to push it up a notch, so we try to go for more difficult skills. With the new scoring system, it’s not just about the difficulty level anymore, you have to be able to do each skill perfectly so you don’t get any deductions. I think we’re on the same track as last year. We might start off a little slow, but we’re looking to peak at the end of the season. The season is like a wave, and we’re looking to peak at the time we get to the Big Ten and NCAA meets.
SV: That’s one of the things about our team, we might start off slow while other teams start the season stronger, but sometimes athletes on other teams end up getting injured by the end of the season and they can’t compete. That’s one of our strong points, we try to stay healthy throughout the season so maintain strength. If we need to rest for a meet during the season, our coaches are willing to let us rest so we can be ready for the championship part of the season.
SD: We have more depth with our team this season, too, so if one person needs to rest for a meet, there are other guys who are ready to step into the line up and do those events.
When it comes to the Big Ten Championship, there are a lot of strong teams to compete against. Do you feel like you’re ready to challenge for one of the top spots at the conference championship?
SD: Looking at the other Big Ten teams, and who they lost and who they gained since last season, it’s hard to say that we’re the number one team, but we’re definitely good enough to be in the top three.
SV: I think we have a strong chance of beating a lot of the other team in the Big Ten, but we might not be quite at the top yet.
Look ahead at the 2008 season, what are the things you’re most looking forward to?
SV: I think one of the meets that Sergei and I are really looking forward to is our last home meet, Senior Night, where we’ll compete against Iowa and Illinois. They are both really good teams, and we hope to come out with a win in our last home meet. That’s going to be a really fun meet to be at. Our parents are going to be in town, it’s going to be a great meet, hopefully we’ll get a big crowd there too.
SD: I like all of our home meets. We have an advantage having our home crowd there to support us. I really like competing at Big Tens and NCAA’s too, those big meets are always really fun.
Now that the two of you are the captains and senior leaders on the team, what kinds of things are you doing to help motivate and lead your team this season?
SV: We know that everyone has their bad days, and as a senior, I like to help motivate my teammates to keep going and keep pushing through, even when there are bad days. We all have days where we’re tired or sore, or we just don’t feel like being at practice, but it’s up to us to keep them going and motivate them keep a positive attitude in the gym.
I’m sure you’ve learned a lot of things during your time in college, what is one thing that you know now that you wish you would have known when you were starting out as a freshman?
SD: The biggest thing I learned my freshman year was that this is a team sport, not an individual sport. Everybody is by themselves when they raise their hand and compete, but each of our individual scores make up the team score, and it’s the team score that counts, not the individual scores. The better each of us does personally, the team as a whole improves. When I’m competing, I try to do the best I can so the team score can be higher. Back in high school, our competitions were all individual, but now it’s about the team. We wouldn’t have made it to the NCAA team finals if it wasn’t for each and every person pushing to do their best and get the best score they could. We use that to motivate each other in the gym and at meets. We always cheer for each other and make sure that each person is doing the best thing for the team. We help each other out because the team matters more than the individual.
With the new scoring system in place this year, how has that changed the way you prepare for competition?
SV: It doesn’t really change what we do in the gym on a daily basis, but it does change routine construction a lot. There are more deductions now, and we have to do more clean gymnastics now, no one can get by with “huck and chuck gymnastics” anymore. We have to do smarter gymnastics now.
Your intrasquad meet was scored with the new scoring system, did that help give you a picture of where you stand under the new scoring rules?
SD: We were one of the first teams to have our intrasquad, so we didn’t really have anything to compare our scores to. Everything is different, like what does 336 mean? We don’t know how the other teams are scoring, so we’re really looking forward to the meet this weekend where we can compare our scores to other teams and see where we stand. We understand that getting a 15 is really big, that’s a really big score, and a 14 is still really good, but we still have more to figure out with the new scores.
SV: One thing that we did find out at the intrasquad meet was that some of the harder routines that we put up didn’t get big scores, and some of the less difficult routines actually beat the ones with higher start values. Execution is now really important, and routines have to be done cleanly to get a good score.
Overall, what would you say about your Gopher career so far?
SD: My first three years here flew by so fast, now I’m a senior already. I’m looking forward to finishing up, but I’ve had a really good career here. I wouldn’t take anything back.
SV: It seems like just yesterday that our parents were moving us into the dorms. Everything flew by really quick, it’s been really fun.