Minnesota vs. Nebraska men's gymnastics, 3/25

Nebraska's Daniel Leal in action on the high bar during a meet against Minnesota last season at the Devaney Sports Center.

FRANCIS GARDLER, JOURNAL STAR

In 2017, the Nebraska men's gymnastics program reached a height it hadn't experienced since 1999. A determined bunch of Huskers, fueled by falling short a year earlier, reached the final six at the NCAA Championships.

But don't get the idea the Huskers are content with last year's showing.

"The guys are super-focused," NU men's coach Chuck Chmelka said. "They have a new goal. They're hungry to excel."

Nebraska, led by a class of eight seniors, wants to keep climbing the ladder. The Huskers' season begins Saturday at the Rocky Mountain Open in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

There are higher expectations. Higher hopes. Of the 36 routines in a meet, Nebraska only lost four routines to graduation, so plenty of experience returns.

That's why Chmelka has a "gut feeling" his team is on the verge of a bigger season.

"Just watching them this summer train, going to P&G Championships and having the third-most guys (from a college team) there ... and these guys are hungry," Chmelka said. "They're not satisfied with anything yet. They want to raise the bar as high as they possibly can, and I would never doubt these guys with anything."

A key part to that mentality stems from a large group of seniors, which includes captains Connor Adamsick, Chris Stephenson, Kyle King, Antonio Castro and Daniel Leal, who were contributors in multiple events last year.

Adamsick said it was a good feeling watching last year's seniors leave NU on a high note after helping rebuild the program. Now this year's seniors want to do the same.

"It's really driven us to, 'Well, let's take a step further our senior year. Let's make our imprint on this university, on this program,'" Adamsick said. "It's been pretty cool just to see the change in attitude, the change in mentality, the change in culture."

Nebraska finished sixth at last year's NCAA Championships, and Chmelka said the team was mad with how it performed during the final day. But what the Huskers did do was prove they belong alongside other national powers.

"This year we've been working hard on the weakest events and we're like, 'We can be up there with them,'" Leal said. "We're not going with a bad mentality that, 'Oh, my God, Ohio (State) and Oklahoma are one and two.' No, we can be up there with them, and we're going to give everything we can. We just have to stay healthy."

Though the Huskers enter 2018 with a lot of momentum, they are banged up. Junior Anton Stephenson, who won a Big Ten vault championship and earned All-America honors on parallel bars, is nursing a shoulder injury that will prevent him from competing at the Rocky Mountain Open, Chmelka said.

Joshua Everitt, Evan Hymanson, Jordan King, Brenon Sommers are injured. All-American Kyle King and Chris Stephenson are also dealing with some nagging injuries, but are expected to compete in limited roles in Colorado Springs.

The setbacks will allow some of the younger Huskers to pick up routines during the early part of the schedule.

"You're talking 36 routines, and we've lost almost two-thirds of them (to injury and graduation)?" Chmelka said. "Yeah, we still have quality to fill in, so I'm super-excited about the depth. And just the fact that the guys in the offseason worked so hard, they moved up on the depth chart."

The Huskers do return some key contributors who were sidelined by injuries last year, including Andrew Zymball, Alex Magsam and Josh Martin, who will compete as an all-around performer in the first meet. NU also has Illinois transfer Austin Lober available.

Briefly

* Adamsick and Chris Stephenson are co-captains this year. Adamsick is a two-time captain.

* There are four true freshmen on the team, including Griffin Kehler, who competed at last year's P&G Championships. Chmelka said all four freshmen are traveling to Colorado Springs.

* Nebraska will see No. 2 and defending Big Ten champion Ohio State twice in two weeks. The Buckeyes are in the Rocky Mountain Open and then travel to Lincoln for a Jan. 20 dual against the Huskers. NU travels to No. 1 Oklahoma two weeks later.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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