THIS WEEK: The eighth-ranked Minnesota men’s gymnastics team closes out the 2008 regular season Friday night at 7 p.m., when the Golden Gophers host Big Ten rivals Illinois and Iowa at the Sports Pavilion. The meet will mark the final home competition for seniors Matt Altomari, Sergei Demitriev, Mitchell Mays, Kyle True and Steven Vuong. The meet will be televised on a tape-delayed basis on Monday, March 24, at 8 p.m. (CDT) by the Big Ten Network with Jim Kelly and Rob Brown calling the action. Live scoring will also be available throughout the meet via www.gophersports.com.
MINNESOTA ON A ROLL: Minnesota may have suffered its first setback in over a month last weekend at then-No. 3 Oklahoma, but the Golden Gophers far and away turned in their top collective performance of the season. Minnesota combined team score of 350.650 points was over five points higher than its previous team-best mark. The Gophers also set a season-high vault score (63.950), while posting their second-best marks of the year on floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, parallel bars and their third-best score of the season on high bar. Prior to falling to the now second-ranked Sooners, Minnesota posted wins over Illinois-Chicago, Nebraska and Temple and had not tasted defeat in dual meet competition since losing at then-No. 1 Penn State on Feb. 1.
A LOOK AT THE GOPHERS: Since opening the year with a preseason ranking of No. 7, Minnesota has held steady in the No. 8 position for the past several weeks. The Golden Gophers upped their national scoring average to 346.683 last weekend, thanks to a season-high score of 350.650 at Oklahoma. Minnesota is 3-1 in their last four competitions enters Saturday’s double-dual meet with a 6-7 overall record and a 2-4 mark against Big Ten foes.
FAMILIAR FOES: Saturday’s competition will be the second meeting of the year vs. Iowa and the third against Illinois. The Gophers split with the two teams at the season-opening Windy City Invitational, defeating the Hawkeyes and falling to the Illini. A week later, Minnesota leveled its season series with Illinois, defeating the Illini in Champaign. As a result, the Gophers enter Saturday night’s meet with a combined 2-1 record against the two Big Ten rivals.
MINNESOTA IN THE RANKINGS: Minnesota ranks in the top 10 nationally in 4-of-6 events. The Gophers’ highest ranking is No. 3 on vault. Minnesota is also ranked in the top 10 on floor exercise (No. 9), parallel bars (No. 9) and high bar (No. 10) and sits just outside the top 10 as the nation’s No. 11 team on still rings and the No. 12 squad on pommel horse.
RANKED GOPHERS: Five Minnesota gymnasts are listed in the top 25 of this week’s national rankings. Senior Mitchell Mays holds the highest individual ranking among the Gophers and remains the No. 1-ranked gymnast in the country on vault this week. Junior Kit Beikmann also owns a top-10 national ranking and is currently fifth on pommel horse. Sophomore Cole Storer is the only Gopher currently ranked in the top 25 on three events, ranking No. 17 on high bar, No. 23 on floor exercise and No. 24 on vault, while sophomore Andre Berry is No. 21 on vault. In the all-around, sophomore Aaron Fortunato checks in at No. 17 this week with an average score of 85.117.
SEASON-HIGHS IN SOONERLAND: Talk about a banner day. Nine of the 11 Golden Gophers who competed last week at Oklahoma registered at least one season-high score. Sophomore Andre Berry was impressive, earning season-best scores on three of his five events. But it was senior Mitchell Mays who stole the show, recording season-high totals on all four of his events, including a 16.650 on vault and a 15.100 on rings.
SIMPLY A-MAYS-ING: Senior Mitchell Mays is having one of the best years in recent Minnesota gymnastics history. The nation’s top performer on vault throughout the 2008 season with his Tsukahara double pike, which is considered to be one of the most difficult vaults in the world, Mays has scored 16.350 or better five times this year and leads the country with an average score of 16.583. Mays has also been a stalwart for the Gophers on rings and parallel bars. He own’s Minnesota’s top three rings scores, including a season-high 15.100 at Oklahoma, as well as the Gophers’ third-best score on p-bars.
LORD OF THE POMMELS: Junior Kit Beikmann, who this week ranks fifth nationally on pommel horse, continues to shine on the event for Minnesota. Beikmann has finished in the top three on pommel horse in all seven meets so far this season, with four wins. He also owns the top five scores in the event this year for the Gophers and enters the week with a 3-meet national average of 14.950. Last week at Oklahoma, Beikmann scored a season-high 15.000 points to win the event. It was one of just two wins on the day for the Gophers.
SUPER SOPHOMORES: Minnesota’s sophomore class has played a huge role this season, posting a number of the team’s top performances. Cole Storer, who ranks in the top 25 nationally on floor exercise, vault and high bar, has been one of the Big Ten’s most consistent performers this season. Minnesota had also received strong contributions from Colin McGuire (floor, h-bar), Adam Reichow (floor, vault), Michael Hillin (horse) and Andre Berry (floor, vault, p-bars, h-bar). The workhorse of the group, however, has been Aaron Fortunato. The only Gopher to compete in the all-around in all eight competitions this season (including the Winter Cup), Fortunato ranks 17th nationally in the all-around this week with a 3-meet average of 85.117. He also owns top-5 team scores on floor (15.150) and parallel bars (14.500) this year for Minnesota.
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 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. These types of results are nothing new for Burns, who was named the 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. 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.
WHAT’S NEXT: Following Saturday’s meet vs. Illinois and Iowa, Minnesota will have a week off to prepare for the 2008 Big Ten Championships, which will be hosted by Penn State on April 4-5.