THIS WEEK: The fifth-ranked University of Minnesota men’s gymnastics team will travel to Oakland, Calif. this weekend. The Gophers will take part in the Pacific Coast Classic, slated to begin at 7:30 p.m. PT at the Oakland Convention Center. The Pacific Coast Classic is also a benefit event, designed to support men’s collegiate gymnastics.
THE FIELD: This meet will be among the stiffest competition Minnesota faces all season. The Gophers will face off with No. 2 Cal, No. 3 Stanford, No. 4 Michigan and No. 6 Illinois. In addition to those highly-ranked teams, a Japanese collegiate all-star team and the U.S. Air Force Academy team will also take part in the event.
GOPHER POLL: Minnesota has moved up to No. 5 in the NCAA/GymInfo rankings. The Gophers were ranked No. 5 for one week earlier this season. This ranking matches the highest Minnesota has ever climbed in the five-year tenure of head coach Mike Burns.
LOCKED IN THE VAULT: Minnesota has consistently scored well on the vault this season. Last week vs. Nebraska and Iowa, the Gophers put up a 62.300, their second-best score of the season. That tally “vaulted” them into No. 4 in the nation on the vault. In fact, Minnesota ranks in the top five on five different events at this point in the season.
NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS: The 2009 NCAA Championships will be held on campus at the University of Minnesota. The 2009 national title will be decided at the Sports Pavilion April 16-18. Tickets are available at www.GopherSports.com or by calling 1.800.UGOPHER.
IT’S A RING THING: Minnesota struggled on the still rings for much of the season. The Gophers average still ring score is the only one that isn’t in the top five in the nation. But Minnesota may be turning things around on the apparatus. The Gophers turned in a season-high 57.250 on the rings last week at Iowa, led by strong performances from junior Thomas O’Brien (Westfield, N.J. - 14.500) and senior Eddie Campbell (Salt Lake City - 14.450). That performance lifted the Gophers up to eighth place nationally in the event.
GOOD FORTUN-ATO: Junior Aaron Fortunato (Plano, Texas) ranks in the top 10 nationally in two different events and is the only Gopher who can lay claim to that accomplishment at this point in the season. Fortunato ranks No. 6 on the parallel bars and No. 8 on the floor exercise. He’s very close to adding a third top 10 ranking, as he is No. 11 on the high bar. O’Brien is just outside the top 10 in two different events, with a No. 11 ranking on the parallel bar and a No. 12 spot on the horse.
GOPHERS FLOORING OPPONENTS: In addition to ranking No. 4 on the vault (see Pg. 1), Minnesota also ranks No. 4 in the nation on the floor exercise. Three Gophers are ranked among the top 13 in the event, with junior Adam Reichow (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and Fortunato leading the way in a tie for the No. 8 ranking. Campbell is ranked No. 13 in the nation on the floor.
BURNS BITES: Quotes from Gopher head coach Mike Burns
On the Pacific Coast Classic:
“The Pacific Coast Classic will be an extremely tough meet. This is going to be a real test for our guys and I look forward to the challenge. Stanford and Cal are both hitting their strides and are scoring in the mid-350 range right now. This will be a great opportunity to compete against them on the same floor, with the same judges to see how we match up. Michigan and Illinois are two other teams that will challenge us as well. I expect this to be a very close meet with the final results coming down to mere tenths of a point. Our guys will need to bring their A games’ to Oakland this weekend. There won’t be any easy victories this week, but that’s what makes this meet so exciting.”
On the State of the Team:
“I’m pretty pleased where we are at this point in the season, but I feel we can still do better. Our guys are hitting at a much higher percentage than in past years, but we still need to execute a little cleaner and work on our dismount landings. Last week against Iowa and Nebraska we only had one stuck dismount. That’s unacceptable. We need to really look at the small things that can make a big difference when the smoke clears at the end of a competition. This team has some great potential and I feel like we continue to move in the right direction with the results we have shown thus far.”
COACH BURNS: Mike Burns is in his fifth season as head coach of the Minnesota men’s gymnastics team. 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. The Gophers narrowly missed the team finals last season, but have their designs set on a team finals appearance in their home gym in 2009. Burns was named 2007 Big Ten Coach of the Year and was also 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. Burns is currently serving as the President of the Collegiate Gymnastics Association.