Gophers Captains Count on Culture
July 11, 2016

A team goal was written on a white board in the Cooke Hall gymnasium at the start of last season: advance to day two at the 2016 NCAA Championships. In April, the Gophers accomplished that feat, placing sixth in the country—their highest mark in nine years. At the heart of the program boasts a tight-knit group that believes team culture drives individual success.

Minnesota returns 18 of 20 men for the upcoming season. The 2017 Gophers captains—Joel Gagnon, Zach Liebler, and Alex Wittenberg—hope to continue cultivating something special.

“It gets said a lot, but we really are one big family,” Wittenberg said. “We’re strikingly different individuals, which I find lends itself to a well-rounded, diverse team that knows how to work collaboratively.”

The team’s development has stemmed from an underdog status. Each of the men have seen their goals shaped by their determination for success on the competition floor.

“We are taking it into our own hands,” Liebler said. “Pushing for more difficulty, chasing those top spots, I think we are starting to be seen as one of the top teams—the team that we are.”

Increasing difficulty in routines will be key as collegiate men’s gymnastics adopts a new code change for the upcoming year. The Gophers will spend the preseason building confidence in tougher routines.

“Our captains are setting a standard in the gym,” head coach Mike Burns said. “They’ve been able to maintain our positive culture with focus.”

The trio of captains have commented that this is the closest team that they have been a part of. Beyond team unity, the captains credit the coaching staff as a common thread.

“All three coaches have individual styles that work harmoniously to create a polished final product,” Wittenberg said. “The coaches understand the dynamic of the team—they tune parts up where needed, but they don’t try to change who we are or how we fit into our roles”.

Each member of the men’s gymnastics coaching staff has been a part of the Minnesota culture for over ten years. Their incredible loyalty to the program has established an environment that shines.

“The coaches are very supportive,” Gagnon said. “We all want to leave this program in a better place than when we arrived.”

While this will be the first year Liebler and Wittenberg are captains, Gagnon has become acquainted with the role.

“Club gymnastics has an individual focus,” Gagnon said. “Here, you want to stick the landing for the team—not just yourself”.

While the goal on the Cooke Hall gym white board changed for the new season, the attitude has remained the same.

Stay hungry.



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