By Katie Feilen, Athletic Communications Student Intern
At the 2017 NCAA Championships last month, three Golden Gophers were named All-Americans for the first time. Tristan Duran (parallel bars, high bar), Vitali Kan (vault) and Jalon Stephens (high bar) combined for four out of five All-America accolades that Minnesota tallied. Senior Zach Liebler (floor) also closed his career as a four-time All-American. All three of the new All-Americans will return next season. We caught up with the trio to talk about their hardware and goals for the future.
What does being named an All-American mean to you?
Tristan: An All-American honor is something that we work towards all year, and is essentially one of the most prestigious awards to receive as an individual. I was beyond grateful and excited to have taken home two of these honors on my favorite events, high bar and parallel bars. I walked away from NCAAs with a big smile, and a good feeling about next year.
Vitali: Receiving an All-American honor was one of the most memorable moments I have ever had in gymnastics. It's one of those things that makes me take a step aside and truly appreciate how far I've come in the sport. Last year, I felt disappointed that I wasn't able to earn that status. I later regretted that those discouraged feelings took away from the true joy of competing at NCAAs. This year, I made sure to put all my scoring and placing goals aside and just cherish the moment. To me, this All-American honor just reminds me that my best performances will always happen when I'm having fun, when I know my team has my back, and when there's a slightly above average slow clap started in the arena!
Jalon: I have to say that being an All-American feels really incredible. It is definitely a dream come true; it has been a long and tough road leading up to this point. I remember last year I thought I did the best routine of my life on high bar, and was shy by two or three places of being an All-American. This year I didn't want to have that feeling again. So going up to my routine I didn't want to give anything away to the judges. It is just an honor to say that I am not only an All American, but third in the nation on high bar.
What thoughts did you have when you finished your routine, and later saw your name in the top eight?
Tristan: When I finished my high bar routine, I immediately knew it was my best set of the season. I saw the score come in and it was my season high by about three and a half tenths. I began the meet in second place (behind Jalon), and had to wait for this score to hold till at least 8th place in order to grab an All-American.. and luckily it did! On parallel bars, our last event, I just hit a very clean set and was honestly surprised to see that I sneaked in and notched an eighth place ranking to be named a two-time All-American that day! It all seemed so surreal to me at the time.
Vitali: In the moment of the vault, I had absolutely no thoughts about finishing top eight! The overly-hype celebration was just my way of having a good time and trying to get the crowd and the team pumped up. I saw my score put me in eighth place right away. I thought there was no way I would stay there, especially with my teammates Zach, Yaroslav Pochinka, and another rotation still to go. Seeing my name still in eighth place when it was all said and done was surreal. I couldn't believe it!
Jalon: The thoughts that went through my head as I finished my routine was "Wow, I just stuck my dismount and hit my routine". I felt all the emotions hit me at once, and that feeling will never go away. It was the longest minute of my life waiting on my results, but as soon as I saw the 14.500, I knew then that I was an All-American. Honestly, I had no expectations to be an All-American. I was competing for the team more than anything. After everything was over, the emotions came flooding in and I could not stop the tears from rolling.
How has your team and coaches helped you get to being an All-American?
Tristan: None of this was possible without the help of my teammates and coaches. My teammates were there all year to encourage me, guide me, help me when I was down. They make the sport fun. My coaches helped push me in the gym, and developed me into a better gymnast than I had ever dreamed of being. Most of the credit for my accomplishments goes to them. We really are a family here at Minnesota.
Vitali: My team is always there for me, they always have my back, and they continue to push me and motivate me beyond my best. You'll hear it from every single person on this team... we're a family. I can't thank them enough for shaping me into the competitor, gymnast, and person I am today. My coaches have put me on the path to success. Mike constantly reminds me to believe in myself and what I'm really capable of, Kostya pushes me until I succeed in every workout, and Russ has given me wisdom and knowledge that exceeds far beyond gymnastics. Also, I could have never got to this point in the first place if it wasn't for my dad. He's helped me more than anyone, and I wouldn't be the gymnast I am if it wasn't for him.
Jalon: My coaches really believed in me when I didn't have the strength to, and my teammates pushed me to my limits when I didn't have the willpower to keep going. The team we have is just an extremely close family. This is the closest team I have ever been apart of. I owe my success to them. They continue to stand behind me. They believe in me, so I have no choice but to continue to work hard and grind because the success of the team is more important than my personal success.
What are you looking forward to next season?
Tristan: Next year I'm looking forward to a talented incoming freshman class, and a team with a great amount of experience and leadership. Next year should definitely be our best team that we've had in many years.
Vitali: Next season I'm looking forward to a bit of redemption. This year we came up short on a couple of our goals, which left us all feeling a little bitter. We're losing some incredible sets from our two seniors, Zach and Mitch, but, we'll have some strong talent coming in and a team of 16 upperclassmen that will be hungry to show the NCAA how good we really are!
Jalon: Next season I am looking forward to the new team. Next year is a good mixture of seniors and juniors. We also have an incredible class of four freshman coming in that will help our team success. I believe that we can win the NCAA Championships next year. All of our efforts and time has been put into next year. I believe it is Minnesota's time to win some championships. My personal goals are to be an All-American again, and also to make the Senior National Team at the Winter Cup Challenge. I hear everyone say how much talent and potential I have, and it is time for me to believe it for myself.
What are your plans for this summer?
Tristan: My plans for this summer are to train for the World University Games which will take place in August. I will be representing Team USA, rather than Minnesota, but have been selected alongside my teammate Vitali. It will definitely be a summer to remember.
Vitali: This summer I plan on staying in Minnesota! I'm hoping to work part-time in a data analysis field so I can gain some job experience that'll help me narrow down where I want to go with my statistics major. I'm also excited to say that I've been selected by Team USA to compete at the World University Games in Taiwan! My training plans for the summer will revolve around preparation for that competition in August.
Jalon: This summer I plan on training new skills and putting them in my routines for qualifiers and the P&G Championships. My mindset has shifted since I am an All-American. This summer my personal goals will help the success of the team next year. This summer is my time to push myself so that when I go to the P&G Championships, I can make the national team. That has been my goal for a long time. This summer I will train extremely hard so that my dreams can become a reality.
Incoming Gophers Shine at Junior Olympic Nationals
Two future Gophers won national titles in the all-around competitions and combined for six titles in total at this past weekend's Junior Olympic National Championships.
Catch Up with the New All-American Trio
Tristan Duran, Vitali Kan and Jalon Stephens combined for four out of five All-America accolades that Minnesota earned.
Gophers Celebrate Strong Season
Minnesota celebrated a successful 2017 season at the annual team banquet on Friday evening. The event recognized team accomplishments and award winners.