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Wolverines ready for battle in final weekend of season

BY COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 13, 2009

Michigan assistant men's gymnastics coach Derek Croad has coined a new catchphrase for the No. 4 Michigan men’s gymnastics team in the postseason.

Get in the CAR.

The letters of “CAR” represent the Wolverines’ new attitude that helped lead them to their first Big Ten title since 2000: Confident. Aggressive. Relaxed.

This afternoon, the Wolverines will see if “getting in the CAR” works at the NCAA Championships in the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

“This is what guys work for throughout the whole summer, the whole season, for this one time,” Michigan assistant coach Scott Vetere said. “You get to these meets and you put a little added pressure on yourself. It shows — whether you’re going in last place or going in first place — it’s about handling situations that you’re not accustomed to.”

The new outlook has paid huge dividends for gymnasts like sophomore Chris Cameron, who finished second in the Big Ten all-around and floor-exercise competitions. Cameron's energetic performances at the Big Ten Championships and Michigan's huge victory in Columbus pushed him to a No. 3 ranking in the country on the pommel horse and a No. 4 ranking in the all-around.

Last Monday, Michigan coach Kurt Golder posed an interesting question to his team. Could the Wolverines handle being in first place?

The Wolverines didn’t seem entirely ready to take first place at Big Tens. After building a comfortable lead in the first four events, Michigan tightened up in the final two rotations, almost letting the title slip away.

“We’ve never really experienced (a lead like that) before,” senior Ralph Rosso said. “I think if that does occur (again), we’ll be ready for it. But no matter what, if you hear those announcements, you have to learn to keep your focus, ignore it and just keep doing what you’ve been doing throughout the whole competition.”

Today, Michigan’s task is simple: qualify for team finals, known as the Super Six. The top three teams from each of today's two six-team qualifying sessions advance to the Super Six on Friday night.

Michigan will face two top-five teams in Stanford and California, who are likely to advance. No. 8 Penn State might make a push, but two of the Nittany Lions’ key competitors are injured, one out for the season.

The Wolverines were pleased to draw the afternoon session — they have an excellent shot at making team finals and will have several more hours of rest before the Super Six competition than the teams competing in the evening session.

And they’ll get parallel bars — their weakest event at Big Tens — out of the way first, finishing the session on vault.

“If you look at all the NCAA champions the past three years I’ve been here, they’ve ended on vault or rings,” said senior co-captain Phil Goldberg, who won the Big Ten still rings title. “Usually rings and vault are high scorers in big meets.”

If it makes the Super Six, though, Michigan expects a dogfight in the intense, hostile atmosphere of the Sports Pavilion. A big crowd probably won't turn out for a competition on Thursday at 1 p.m., but on Friday night, with host Minnesota possibly in the team finals, the arena will likely be packed.

Michigan's seniors and juniors, who competed twice at Minnesota in 2007, remember well how difficult it can be to compete at the Sports Pavilion.

“I hate Minnesota,” said senior Joe Catrambone, who claimed the Big Ten high-bar championship. “I personally had terrible meets every time I (went) there. I think this is going to be the toughest (NCAAs) we’ve ever been to, in the qualifying and Super Six.”

Defending champion No. 2 Oklahoma and co-Big Ten champion No. 3 Illinois are near-locks to make Super Six from the second session.

Even against the most talented field they’ve ever faced, the Wolverines feel they are ready to turn heads at NCAAs.

“As long as we hit our routines and do our thing, that’s all we can really ask for,” said sophomore Thomas Kelley, the Big Ten all-around champion and No. 1 high-bar competitor in the nation. “We’re the underdogs — it’s been said before by my teammates. By the same token, we’re a talented team, and we can make some noise at NCAA Championships.”


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