May 6, 2014
By Ben Gotz, Athletics Communication Student Assistant
MINNEAPOLIS - The Gophers men's gymnastics team's 2014 season ended with a Gopher on top of the podium, as junior Ellis Mannon was crowned NCAA pommel horse champion.
Not only was Mannon the Gophers' first NCAA champion in over a decade, but Minnesota sent four gymnasts to the NCAA individual event finals.
"Having four guys in the finals was a great accomplishment for us," head coach Mike Burns said. "I was really pleased that all four were able to make it in."
GopherSports.com looks back at the highlights of the 2014 men's gymnastics season, along with previewing what is next for the program.
Mannon Caps Off Season with NCAA Championship
After finishing as the pommel horse national runner-up his sophomore year, Ellis Mannon got to take home top honors a year later. The junior posted a score of 15.425, his second-highest score of the season, to win Minnesota's first pommel horse NCAA title since 2002. He was named an All-American for his finish at the NCAA championships.
During his junior year, Mannon was also named Big Ten pommel horse champion and earned a place on the All-Big Ten first team. Mannon scored the third-highest NCAA men's pommel horse score of all time early in the season, with a 15.950 at the Windy City Invitational as well.
"Ellis Mannon's success with winning the Big Ten and NCAA pommel horse titles was a highlight for us this season," Burns said. "It's been a long time since someone has done both those things in the same season. That was a huge accomplishment."
Mannon also was the Gophers' only all-around competitor this season, finishing sixth in the all-around at the Big Ten Championships. For his senior year, Mannon hopes to earn All-American honors as an all-around competitor.
Gophers Finish Top 10 for 10th Straight Year
Minnesota finished seventh at the NCAA Qualifier with a score of 429.550, narrowly missing the top-six cut off to advance to team finals.
The Gophers' finish gives the team its 10th consecutive top-10 finish under head coach Mike Burns. Under Burns' watch, the Gophers have never missed the NCAA Qualifier and have never finished outside the top 10 at the end of the season.
"It's all about keeping the guys healthy," Burns said. "Our athletic trainer Erin Moore does a fantastic job keeping our guys ready to compete each week."
Big Ten Championships Recap
The Gophers took fifth in the Big Ten Championships this year with a score of 429.150, behind Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois.
Four Gophers advanced to the event finals in five events, including Mannon, who took home the B1G pommel horse crown with a score of 15.325 and earned All-Big Ten first team honors.
Senior Zack Chase finished third on vault in his third trip to Big Ten event finals, with a score of 15.100, and sophomore Jack Metcalf took fifth on the still rings with a score of 15.175 after sticking his landing in the event finals. Chase was named to the All-Big Ten second team.
Junior Steve Jaciuk made the event finals on both high bar and parallel bars. Jaciuk finished fifth on the parallel bars with a score of 15.175 and seventh on the high bar with a 14.700. He stuck both his landings in the event finals.
Gophers Exceed Preseason Expectations
The Gophers were ranked ninth in the preseason coaches' poll but managed to exceed expectations throughout the entire season. After their season-opening meet, the Gophers were never ranked lower than seventh in the national rankings and secured a place among the nation's top five for almost half of the season.
"The key thing is for everyone to go out and do their job," Burns said. "If everyone does their job, the team results will come."
Gophers Say Goodbye to Eight Seniors
Minnesota had a large senior class this year with eight gymnasts competing in their final season for the Maroon & Gold. Steffen Beck, Zack Chase, Nathan Fortunato, Matt Frey, Adam Kern, Justin Morinishi, John Scallon and Sam Wright all contributed during meets this year and were honored in a special ceremony prior to the team's Senior Night meet against Iowa and Brockport.
Following the meet, the eight seniors received the Louis J. Cooke award for the meet's top performer to honor their contributions to Gopher gymnastics.
"Our seniors are leaving a strong legacy for the new group of guys coming in," Burns said. "It's always a bittersweet time of the year when you have guys wrapping up their careers and there's no more `next year' for them in terms of gymnastics, but it's exciting that they're moving on to a whole new phase of their lives."
Chase Named Nissan-Emery Award Finalist
Senior Zack Chase was one of nine finalists for the prestigious Nissen-Emery Award this season. The Nissen-Emery Award is given annually to the nation's outstanding senior gymnast and is the most coveted award in collegiate gymnastics, and three Gophers have received the award since 1966 including Tim LaFleur (1978), John Roethlisberger (1993) and most recently, Guillermo Alvarez (2005).
The 2014 award was given to Michigan senior Sam Mikulak before the 2014 NCAA Championships.
"I was very impressed with how Zack competed this year," Burns said. "He had some setbacks last year, but he came back strong. He was one of our most consistent competitors this season."
Mannon, Jaciuk Compete at Winter Cup
Mannon finished second on the pommel horse at the Winter Cup, with two-day score of 28.250. His overall score was 161.900 after competing in all six events twice in two days, which ranked him 19th overall at the meet.
Jaciuk also advanced to the second day of competition, finishing with a two-day score of 82.800 while competing in three events. Jaciuk finished 33rd overall.
"The Winter Cup is a pretty prestigious meet, and to compete at it is an accomplishment in itself," Burns said. "For Ellis to not only compete, but place second on pommel horse against some of the country's best gymnasts was huge."
Gopher Award Winners
The Gopher gymnasts picked up several notable awards throughout the season.
Senior Justin Morinishi was honored with the Big Ten Sportsmanship award after the Big Ten Championships. Morinishi also received the Big Ten Postgraduate Scholarship at the annual Golden Goldy awards ceremony for University of Minnesota student-athletes.
Burns listed Morinishi as a senior who really stepped up for the Gophers in his final year with the team.
"Yoshi Morinishi had a solid final season for us and overall a very strong career at the U," Burns said.
Senior Nathan Fortunato received the Elite 89 Award at the NCAA Championships. The award honors the student-athlete who has reached the pinnacle of competition at the national championship level in his or her sport, while also achieving the highest academic standard among his or her peers. A Resource Recreation Management major with a 4.00 grade point average, Fortunato received the award for the second-straight year. The Bedford, Ohio, native also received a "Top Five" award from the University of Minnesota for having one of the top five GPAs among male student-athletes. Fortunato also received special recognition from the Big Ten for his perfect 4.0 GPA and picked up the third Academic All-Big Ten award of his career.
Including Fortunato, 13 Gopher gymnasts were Academic All-Big Ten honorees during the season. Sean Bauer, Steffen Beck, Zack Chase, Daniel DiBenedetto, Fortunato, Steve Jaciuk, Adam Kern, Ellis Mannon, Jack Metcalf, Morinishi, John Scallon, Spencer Smith and Sam Wright all took home the award.
At the team's annual awards banquet, the team handed out a number of awards celebrating an outstanding 2014 season. Ellis Mannon was named most valuable gymnast, while sophomore Paul Montague Jr. was named most improved and Zach Liebler won freshmen of the year.
Mannon was also one of five nominees for Gopher Male Athlete of the Year at the annual Golden Goldy Awards.
"It's nice to see the team recognized for their accomplishments, but it's all about hard work and dedication, and keeping focused on your goals," Burns said. "These guys have done great things. The recognition is very well deserved."
Looking Ahead: Gophers Welcome Newcomers
Plenty of fresh faces will be seen in the Sports Pavilion next year, as the Gophers have already announced the addition of six newcomers for next season. Ryan Bergman, Tristan Duran, Jack Kramer, Yaroslav Pochinka, Jalon Stephens and Alex Wittenberg have all signed with the Gophers and are expected to be on campus for the fall of 2014.
"We're already looking forward to another great season in 2015," Burns said. "We're going to have a whole new look to our team. We'll have a bunch of new guys that will get the chance to put their fingerprints on the program, and that should be fun to see."
Local Talent Makes Impact on Gophers' Roster
University of Minnesota men's gymnast, Ryan Bergman, has become a staple competitor for the Gophers in the Parallel bars lineup and hails only 30-minutes down the freeway from the U.
Shashank's Redemption: Journey to Most Improved
University of Minnesota men's gymnastics sophomore Shashank Yallamraju was named the Gophers' Most Improved Gymnast of the 2016 season.
Wittenberg's NCAA Address
Alex Wittenberg was chosen as the student-athlete representative for the 2016 Men's Gymnastics NCAA Championships.