- Natalie Leonard/Collegian
By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 21, 2013
Going into the final rotation of the NCAA national championship on Saturday night, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team held a half-point lead over Oklahoma with only its floor routine to go. But while the Sooners and the other four teams were anxiously waiting to begin their last event rotations, the Wolverines couldn’t help but smile.
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No. 3 Michigan (7-1 Big Ten, 27-2 overall) was up on the floor, where it ranks first in the nation, and knew it was only a rotation away from winning the program’s fifth national championship.
But the anticipation of winning wasn’t the only thing bringing smiles to the Wolverine bench. Junior Sam Mikulak was up by 2.95 points in the all-around competition over his teammate, sophomore Adrian de Los Angeles. So with first and second place locked up in the all-around, a huge floor routine was all that stood in Michigan’s way to a team title.
The Wolverines did more than rise to the occasion on their floor exercise, where they scored an event-high 75.250, which gave them a 443.200-440.100 blowout over the second-place Sooners. It’s been 29 years since a team won the NCAA team title by more than three points.
“I knew we could score higher on floor then Oklahoma could on high bar, we just had to hit our sets,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “But it can happen where one guy misses, then the next guy, then the next guy, and it can be really hard to get it turned around.
“We didn’t have it clinched (and) even though we had the pressure on us, the guys were ready for it and handled it really well.”
Michigan’s success on floor also kept Mikulak in the lead for the all-around championship, where he ultimately edged out Los Angeles with a career-best 91.150. It’s Mikulak’s second all-around title in three years, and the pairs’ 1-2 finish for the all-around is the first time teammates have done that since the 1980s.
“Mikulak is special because of his unselfishness,” Golder said. “Every interview that he has, he just talks about how he didn’t have personal goals and (that) everything was for the team. He kept saying all he wanted was to get one or two in the all-around no matter the order, (just) as long as it went to Michigan.
“He just wanted the team to win, and that approach was really great — just get out there and be the best.”
All in all, it was a storybook weekend for the Wolverines, who started out as well as they finished.
In the NCAA Qualifier on Friday afternoon, the top 12 teams in the nation competed for six spots in the team finals Saturday. Michigan needed to place in the top three of its session in order to advance, and the Wolverines set the tone early, ultimately grabbing first place in their session.
Last season, Michigan also finished in the top spot in their session but ultimately ended up in last place after Saturday, so the Wolverines knew they couldn’t let their early success lead to overconfidence heading into the finals.
“Last year’s problems really helped us to get there this year,” Golder said. “I mean, just about the whole team was there last year so that experience just helped everyone this year.
“After we won our session last year in the prelims, we were celebrating, but this year it was just as usual and we had a ‘We’re not done’ mentality. So that really is experience and maturation as a competitor.”
Friday, Michigan scored 70-plus points on all six events, but its performance on the parallel bars stole the show on the first day of competition, scoring a season-best 75.90. All three Wolverine competitors broke the personal 15-barrier, with senior Syque Caesar leading the way with his 15.60.
This time, Michigan’s experience stood out in every event Saturday. The confidence Golder had in his team was reflected by his decision to start the meet off on championship Saturday with pommel horse, widely considered the hardest of the six events. The Wolverines scored their third-highest mark of the season, hitting an event-high 72.250.
Michigan moved onto the rings, where it had a terrific second rotation. Junior Alex Bubnov went first and set a career-high 15.25, followed by junior Jordan Gaarenstroom, who also hit a career best with his monster 15.600-point performance.
From there, the Wolverines made everything look easy. Mikulak took on his best event, the high bar, where he scored a 15.650. Saturday night’s podium was filled with maize and blue, but it didn’t end there for Michigan, which continued its dominance Sunday.
Eight Wolverines qualified for individual finals, and five came out with spots on the podium. In addition, gymnasts who finish in the top eight in individual events are awarded All-American status — Michigan tied a program high with 13.
Like the rest of the weekend, Mikulak led the way on Sunday, earning individual titles in high bar and parallel bar, while grabbing third place on floor. The 13-time All-American and five-time NCAA champion’s high-bar performance was so dominant that he notched more then a point higher than the next closest competitor and scored a weekend-high 16.100.
“I honestly don’t think I have (had a better weekend),” Mikulak said. “Olympic trials were definitely really exciting for me, but overall for this entire weekend, I didn’t miss a single routine. It just kind of felt easy going with the flow, I’m just real pleased with how I did.”
In addition to Mikulak’s achievements, Caesar got second on the parallel bars and third on the high bar. He also tied with teammate senior Rohan Sebastian for fourth on floor.
With a hugely successful NCAA weekend under its belt, Michigan will walk away from this season accomplishing everything it wanted to. The Wolverines not only earned the team title, the all-around title and two individual titles, but they also won the Big Ten championship two weeks ago. The Big Ten proved to be no cakewalk, as four of the six teams that qualified for Saturday came from the conference.
And as if all of his team’s success wasn’t enough, Golder got to watch the program in conference rival Penn State’s home gym. The Nittany Lions spent most of the season one spot above the Wolverines in the conference standings and the Associated Press standings.
In the end, it was a perfect weekend for Michigan.
“It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine,” Golder said. “We had a great championship, you get a one-two sweep, and the all-around and win the team title, (13) All-Americans and one national champion on two events. It doesn’t get a whole lot better than that. I’m very, very pleased and anxious to host next year.”