THIS WEEK: The eighth-ranked Minnesota men’s gymnastics team returns to dual-meet action Saturday night, when the Golden Gophers host No. 13 Illinois-Chicago at the Sports Pavilion. The meet will mark Minnesota’s second encounter of the season with the Flames and gets underway at 7 p.m. The official website of Minnesota athletics, www.gophersports.com, will stream all the action live. Live statistics will also be available on www.gophersports.com throughout the competition.
FAMILIAR FOE: Minnesota and Illinois-Chicago will be hooking up for the second time this season, when the Golden Gophers host the Flames at 7 p.m. Saturday night at the Sports Pavilion. The Gophers defeated the Flames, 340.350-332.050, at the six-team Windy City Invitational on Jan. 12 in the first encounter between the two teams. Saturday’s meet will also mark UIC’s first trip to the Twin Cities since the 2006 campaign. Each of the last three meetings between the Gophers and Flames - two last year and this year’s season opener - have all taken place in Chicago, with Minnesota coming out on top all three times. The Flames last visit to the Sports Pavilion occurred on Jan. 28, 2006, with Minnesota posting a 201.200-196.250 victory.
A LOOK AT THE GOPHERS: With only sophomore Aaron Fortunato in action at last week’s USA Gymnastics 2008 Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas, Minnesota should be a well-rested squad as the Gopher step back into collegiate competition this weekend vs. Illinois-Chicago. As the Gophers near the midpoint of the 2008 campaign, Minnesota continues to be led by seniors Mitchell Mays, Steve Vuong, Sergei Dmitriev, junior Kit Beikmann and a talented quartet of sophomores in Cole Storer, Andre Berry, Colin McGuire and Fortunato. Mays, who continues to lead the nation on vault, has also been the Gophers’ top performer on rings and one of Minnesota’s best on parallel bars. The Gophers have also received solid contributions from senior team captains Dmitriev and Vuong, with Dmitriev posting Minnesota’s top score on parallel bars this season. Vuong, meanwhile, is the only Gopher to break 14.500 this year on rings besides Mays. Beikmann enters the week ranked No. 7 nationally on pommel horse and has been far and away Minnesota’s top performer in that event with three of the team’s top four scores. Storer has also been a consistent performer for the Gophers. The sophomore owns the team’s No. 2 score on both floor exercise and vault and has registered Minnesota’s top performance of the year on high bar. Minnesota’s top all-arounder is Fortunato. He hit a season-high point total of 85.100 in the Gophers’ home opener vs. Calgary and also owns the squad’s best score on floor with his 15.150 at Penn State. Berry, one of Minnesota’s top performers on vault, and McGuire, who owns solid scores on both floor and high bar this season, have been strong contributors as well.
FLAMES REPORT: Illinois-Chicago is coming off a 336.450-327.500 victory over William & Mary in its most recent dual meet competition. It was the first win of the season for the 13th-ranked Flames, who boast a pair of top 25-ranked all-arounders in Anthony May and Neal Thompson. UIC has also received solid performances from Andrew Stover (high bar, pommel horse, floor exercise and still rings) and Nikolai Korepanov (rings) this season.
POLL POSITION: The Golden Gophers remained at No. 8 in this week’s edition of the GymInfo National Rankings. All six Big Ten teams continue to be ranked among the nation’s top 10 this week, with Penn State holding on to the No. 1 spot. Illinois is listed at No. 5, Michigan is No. 6, Ohio State is No. 7, and Iowa is No. 10. In the event rankings, the Gophers’ highest ranking is No. 4 on vault. Minnesota is also ranked in the top 10 on high bar (No. 7), floor exercise (No. 8), parallel bars (No. 9) and pommel horse (No. 10) and sits just outside the top 10 as the nation’s No. 11 team on still rings.
RANKED GOPHERS: Four Minnesota gymnasts are listed in the national rankings this week. Senior Mitchell Mays holds the highest individual ranking among the Gophers. He remains the No. 1-ranked gymnast on vault this week and is also listed at No. 20 on still rings. Sophomore Cole Storer is also ranked in two events, entering the week at No. 6 on vault and No. 27 on high bar. Junior Kit Beikmann is No. 7 on pommel horse, while sophomore Aaron Fortunato is No. 20 in the all-around.
GOPHERS ON THE BIG TEN NETWORK: The Minnesota men’s gymnastics team will be one of the many Olympic sports benefitting from the new Big Ten Network. The Golden Gophers are scheduled to make two appearances on the network during the 2008 season, beginning with Minnesota’s home tri-meet with Illinois and Iowa on March 21. The BTN will also air the league’s conference championship on April 4-5. Minnesota’s meet against Penn State this week was scheduled to be broadcast by the BTN but was later dropped when the meet format was changed to a double-dual with the Nittany Lion women’s gymnastics team.
NEW SCORING SYSTEM ADOPTED: The 2008 men’s gymnastics season will feature a new scoring system. The NCAA has elected to adopt the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) open-ended Code of Points, which has been used internationally since 2005. The new system allows for scoring above the ever-popular 10 points with each score being broken down into two components: exercise composition and exercise presentation. The gymnast’s final score is the sum of the two elements.
HEAD COACH MIKE BURNS: Mike Burns is in his fourth season as head coach of the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team and is in the process of bringing about a complete transformation of the Golden Gopher program. In 2007 the Gophers began to make the kind of moves Burns envisioned when he arrived in the Twin Cities. Competing in the toughest gymnastics conference in the nation, the Gophers posted an impressive third place finish at the Big Ten Championships. Two weeks later the squad advanced to the team finals at the NCAA Championships, where it recorded a sixth-place finish. It was the first time Minnesota had advanced to the team finals at the NCAA meet since 1990, as the claimed All-America citations. These types of results are nothing new for Burns, who was named 2007 Big Ten Coach of the Year and over the summer was selected as the 2007 USA Gymnastics Men’s Coach of the Year. In 2005, his first year as the Gopher’s head coach, Burns coached Guillermo Alvarez to the Nissen-Emery Award, which is given to the nation’s top senior gymnast. It was only the third time a Gopher gymnast had earned the prestigious award and the first time it had happened since 1993. Under Burns, Alvarez also was the vault champion at the Big Ten Championships and won the floor exercise at the 2005 U.S. National Championships. A native of Norwood, Mass., Burns came to Minnesota from Michigan, where he served as an assistant men’s coach from 1997-2004. Burns received the National Assistant Coach of the Year award in 1999, while helping lead Michigan to the 1999 NCAA Championship. He earned the same honor in 2000, after leading the Wolverines to the second of two-consecutive Big Ten team titles. During his tenure at Michigan, he coached five national champions, 37 All-Americans, and 14 Big Ten champions. Burns is a 1981 graduate of Penn State.
UP NEXT: The Gophers will be idle next week before returning to action on Saturday, March 1, when Minnesota hosts a double-dual vs. No. 12 Nebraska and No. 9 Temple. The meet will be held in the Sports Pavilion beginning at 7 p.m.