Chuck Chmelka was counting on Ethan Lottman to contribute right away on the pommel horse for the Nebraska men’s gymnastics team.
But the freshman from the Cahoy Gymnastic Training Center in Omaha has surprised the Husker coach with his performances in the other four events.
“He’s great on the horse,” said Chmelka, Nebraska’s coach. “He’s really steady everywhere else.”
Lottman is a Gretna graduate and the only Nebraskan on the team. He and fellow freshman Sam Chamberlain have made the travel team for the Huskers’ first competition of the season Saturday at the Rocky Mountain Open.
Air Force is the host of the 7 p.m. event in Colorado Springs, Colo. Other teams competing include Arizona State, second-ranked Oklahoma and some individuals from the Olympic Training Center.
Lottman is a key backup on the other events besides the horse, where he was ranked in the top 15 nationally in junior competition.
“His floor exercise and high bar are really coming along,” Chmelka said. “He’s also training in parallel bars and vaulting. They are coming along as well, just not as fast.”
Because someone is always sick or banged up, Chmelka would like to develop a squad that is 10 deep in every event.
They’ll need that to move up the national rankings. Nebraska was ranked ninth in the preseason, but with an older team for the first time in a few years, expectations are higher.
Chmelka said a solid junior class will be the backbone of the team. That includes Wyatt Aycock, Eric Schryver, C.J. Schaaf, Mark Ringle and Donovan Arndt. Schaaf will compete in the all-around, Aycock in five events and specialist Arndt on the rings.
“They were a great class,” the coach said. “They do the predominance of scoring for us.”
Scoring won’t be the focus early. Instead, start value and hit percentage are critical.
Each Husker will perform as difficult of a routine as possible and try to finish without a major error. That would hopefully put the Huskers’ hit percentage in the 70 range. That should jump to the 90s by the end of the season.
“If your start values are pretty high and you hit between 70 to 90 percent, your team score is going to be very good,” Chmelka said.
This year, because of a rules change, teams will count the scores of five gymnasts per event, instead of four.
NU was picked to finish sixth in the seven-team Big Ten. Top-ranked Michigan, third-ranked and defending national champion Illinois, No. 4 Penn State, Ohio State and Minnesota were picked ahead of the Huskers. Iowa was seventh.
“The Big Ten in men’s gymnastics is really tough,” Chmelka said. “If we win the Big Ten title, we’re probably going to win the national championship.”
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