MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota's men's gymnastics team closed their 2014-2015 campaign with six gymnasts advancing to the NCAA Individual Event Finals and five earning All-America honors.
Underclassmen Zach Liebler, Yaroslav Pochinka and Joel Gagnon represented the future of Gopher gymnastics with standout performances at the national championships. Liebler tallied a 15.575 to finish tied for third with Michigan's Stacey Ervin. Gagnon notched a 15.375, earning sixth place. Pochinka finished ninth on the vault with a score of 13.875. Both Liebler and Gagnon earned All-America laurels for their performances.
Seniors Jack Metcalf, Ellis Mannon and Steve Jaciuk earned top honors in the last meet of their collegiate careers.
Metcalf finished on still rings with a score of 15.575 placing sixth overall while Jaciuk earned third on high bar with a score of 15.025. Both seniors earned their first All-America accolades.
Mannon finished seventh on the pommel horse and was named the 2015 Nissen-Emery Award winner in conjunction with collecting his All-America recognition for the third time in his career.
"Coming away with five All-Americans from the Individual Event Finals at NCAA's is an outstanding accomplishment," said Burns. "Our entire coaching staff also came away with CGA Regional Coach of the Year awards, which was the first time since I've been here at Minnesota that the coaches were so awarded."
This was the first time since the 2007 season where five Gophers earned top All-American honors and competed in the NCAA Event Finals.
2015 Team Awards
At the annual end of year banquet, the Gophers honored the best of the best with team awards.
Freshman Yaroslav Pochinka earned the Comeback Gymnast of the Year Award. After an injury prevented Pochinka from competing early in the season, he came back earning a spot in the individual event finals at the NCAA Championships, a stellar performance at the conference championships and Second Team All-Big Ten honors in his first season on the team.
Joel Gagnon was named Freshman of the Year after earning All-American recognition at the NCAA Championships on floor exercise while Jalon Stephens earned the Most Improved Competitor Award.
Senior Sean Bauer was awarded the Spirt of Gopher Gymnastics Award for his competitive and energetic spirit on and off the competition floor.
Redshirt freshman Mitchell Soukup earned Rookie of the Year honors while freshman Alex Wittenberg was honored as the Most Improved Gymnast.
Jack Metcalf, Spencer Smith, Luke Aldrich and Yaroslav Pochinka earned academic excellence awards.
Coaches Appreciation Award was given to Donnie Carper for his work with the team this year.
Zach Lieber earned the Outstanding NCAA Competitor Award after a standout performance at the national championships while Jack Metcalf was given the Outstanding Championship Competitor Award. Both earned All-America honors for the first time this season.
Ellis Mannon's storied career was recognized as he was given the Outstanding Career Award. The Most Valuable Gymnast Award was given to senior Steve Jaciuk.
Luke Aldrich, Ryan Bergman, Tristan Duran, Joel Gagnon, Jack Kramer, Yaroslav Pochinka, Mitchell Soukup, Jalon Stephens, Alex Wittenberg and Shashank Yallamraju earned their first year letter jackets from M Club Director, George Adzick. Adzick also awarded the M Club pin to graduating seniors Sean Bauer, Donnie Carper, Steve Jaciuk, Ellis Mannon, Jack Metcalf and Spencer Smith.
At the conclusion of the banquet, head coach Mike Burns named Paul Montague, Jr., Danny DiBendetto and Joel Gagnon the captains for the 2015-16 season.
Gophers at Home
"Home competitions are always more fun for several reasons," said Burns. "We have the absolute best venue in the country for a gymnastics meet. The Sports Pavilion, in my humble opinion, is the best facility in the nation and I also feel that we have the best facility staff around. Our home fans are absolutely the best and we always enjoy competing in front of them. They understand gymnastics and really make our meets fun."
This season, the Golden Gophers hosted four home meets that welcomed impressive performances from both the visiting and home team, as well as distinguished Gopher alumni.
To open up the season, the Maroon and Gold showcased their skills against past Gopher greats. The current Gopher roster fell short of the alumni by just 0.1 points. The win marked the alumni's 47th straight win.
The team, despite the loss to the alumni, had an undefeated record at home this season.
In the first regular season home meet, the Gophers met the Air Force one-on-one and earned their first victory, 425.100 to 407.250, claiming four events in the process.
The team tallied another home victory (429.900) when the Maroon and Gold hosted the UIC Flames (402.600) and the Nebraska Cornhuskers (422.050).
At the final home meet of the season, which paid tribute to the six graduating seniors, the team topped the UMN Club Team and Big Ten foe, Iowa, with a total score of 436.250. This season high score also marked the second highest in program history (* Prior to the 2013 season - scoring was changed to reflect scores from five gymnasts.)
Gophers on the Road
"Competing in hostile territory is always a little tougher for any team in any sport, but our guys did a great job of staking a territorial claim in venues on the road," said Burns. "Being able to bring the atmosphere and positive environment we have at home to our away meets is an important aspect of competing on the road during the regular meet season.
To kick off the 2015 season, the Golden Gophers traveled to Chicago, Ill. for the 45th annual Windy City Invitational. With a final team score of 410.450, the team finished fifth among host UIC and Big Ten opponents.
Following a weekend at home, the team traveled to Champaign, Ill., and competed head-to-head with the Illini. Though they ultimately fell short, the still rings proved to be the key event for the Maroon and Gold. Each Gopher earned a 14.000 or higher while hitting 100% of their routines.
Traveling next to Iowa City, the team improved and the top spots on five of the six events were claimed by the Maroon and Gold. On pommel horse, the team broke the 70 barrier and collected their first 71.200 on the apparatus for the 2015 season. Senior Sean Bauer and sophomore Zach Liebler both earned their first season-high marks of 15.000 on floor exercise and tied for first.
During a team hiatus, Mannon traveled to the Winter Cup in Las Vegas, Nev. where he earned the championship title on pommel horse following a stellar performance and season-high 15.450 mark. While also competing on parallel bars, earning a 14.250 and 14.900 on the weekend, Mannon finished fifth overall.
In the first five-up, five-count meet of the 2015 season, the Gophers faced the Cal-Berkeley Golden Bears and the Stanford Cardinal, as well as the national teams from Canada and Japan in Palo Alto, Calif. Pochinka made his Golden Gopher debut with an impressive 15.150 on vault.
"We had a great away meet experience at Stanford back in late February," explained Burns. "They ran a great meet, we had a great meet, the weather was fabulous, and we got to do a little sightseeing in San Francisco the day after."
At the final regular season meet, the Maroon and Gold upset Big Ten rival, Penn State, 434.00-432.100, as well as Iowa (429.250) and host team, Nebraska (426.050). In his season-high performance, Mannon tallied a 15.800 on the pommel horse, which set him up perfectly for the Big Ten Championships.
At the Big Ten Championships held in University Park, Pa., Mannon defended his 2014 conference pommel horse title and was named First Team All-Big Ten. Pochinka and Jaciuk were named to the Second Team All-Big Ten team on vault and the parallel bars, respectively.
"This year, we had eight gymnasts qualify to the individual event finals doing a total of 10 routines, which is the most finalists we have had in many years," said Burns. "It's a real indication of the quality of our team this year."
Mannon Wins Nissan-Emery Award
The Nissen-Emery Award is the most prestigious in collegiate gymnastics and is awarded to the nation's most outstanding senior gymnast.
This year, that honor was presented to Mannon at the NCAA/CGA Men's Gymnastics Award Banquet in Norman, Okla.
"Ellis winning the Nissen-Emery Award is such an amazing accomplishment," said Burns. "It was great to see the recognition he received from the gymnastics community for an outstanding career and an outstanding senior campaign."
Mannon joins three other distinguished Gopher alumni whom have also been recipients of the award: Tim LaFleur (1978), John Roethlisberger (1993) and Guillermo Alvarez (2005).
Last year's recipient was Michigan Wolverine, Sam Mikulak.
Looking Ahead: 2015-2016 Season
Next season, the Gophers will return 14 gymnasts including: Luke Aldrich, Ryan Bergman, Daniel DiBenedetto, Tristan Duran, Joel Gagnon, Jack Kramer, Zach Liebler, Paul Montague Jr., Yaroslav Pochinka, Jordan Poganski, Mitchell Soukup, Jalon Stephens, Alex Wittenberg and Shashank Yallamraju.
"We had such a talented group of underclassmen that complimented the leadership and experience of the upperclassmen this year," said Burns. "Talent cannot be replaced; but talent with a purpose is a very powerful trait and the upperclassmen were able to bring that out of the underclassmen which is what made this season so special in my mind."
Moving on from the team this year to join the ranks of the other established University of Minnesota men's gymnastics alumni include Mannon, Bauer, Metcalf, Jaciuk, Donnie Carper and Spencer Smith.
"The leadership our seniors displayed throughout the year was invaluable and they will be sorely missed next year," said Burns. "However, they instilled a sense of pride and excellence in the returning underclassmen that will resonate with them for the years to come."
To replace the graduating Golden Gophers, the program will welcome six incoming freshmen to the squad.
Among the newcomers will be Ryan Wangler and Vitali Kan, whom finished 1st and 2nd in the All Around at the USA Gymnastics Regional Championships, held the same weekend as the NCAA Championships.
At the Region 4 Championships, committed Gophers, Ben Winkel and Michael Harris finished 4th and 7th, respectively. Shaun Herzog, of Region 6 finished 2nd in the All-Around.
Joining the "Canadian Connection" Joel Gagnon will be fellow countryman, Justin Karstadt, who, at the 2015 Canada Winter Games won the All Around title and helped his team win the Gold Medal.
"Our incoming freshmen have already experienced great success which will plug right into our team concept," explained Burns. "They are all extremely talented and will be excellent additions to next year's squad."
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