BY COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
Published April 14, 2008
Posted Apr. 18
PALO ALTO, Calif. - This year, there was no wild celebration spilling out onto the competition floor. There was no last-minute push to the finish.
But the result was the same.
In Session I of NCAA team qualifiers last night, the No. 6 Michigan men's gymnastics team nudged out the seventh-ranked Buckeyes for the third available spot in tonight's team finals with a 354.30. It's the third year in a row Ohio State has missed team finals, and the second straight year Michigan has snagged the final slot.
"This year it wasn't as close," Michigan assistant coach Derek Croad said. "It was a battle of who was cleanest, who hit the most, who didn't make mistakes. . Beating Ohio State is always a pleasure."
And though the Wolverines had even more adversity to deal with than usual, they were always able to bounce back.
"(Michigan assistant coach) Xiao (Yuan) sat there and looked at us before the meet and said, 'Have a party. Go dance. Have fun,' " junior Jamie Thompson said. "You can't disappoint anybody (when) everyone's just looking to destroy you."
Michigan began the night with two strong rotations on the pommel horse and still rings. Junior Phil Goldberg capped rings with a near-flawless set (15.75), his stuck landing "electrifying" the team, according to freshman Thomas Kelley.
But on vault, Michigan lost freshman Ben Baldus-Strauss for the rest of the weekend. His left ankle crumpled under him as he landed his double-twisting vault. His face contorted with pain, and eventually he had to be helped off the floor.
For the Wolverines, it was a gut-check. And on parallel bars, they responded in fine fashion, hanging onto their third-place slot by just one tenth over the Buckeyes. Freshman Chris Cameron, who hit each of his four sets, finished the event with a smooth 14.9 routine.
And on high bar, despite difficulties, the Wolverines clinched their place in the finals. The rotation didn't begin auspiciously - junior Jamie Thompson was pressed into service because of Baldus-Strauss' absence, and the fact that he hadn't warmed up the event was readily apparent. Instead of allowing the rough routine to derail their performances, though, the subsequent four gymnasts all turned in hit routines, with Kelley putting up the highest score of the session (14.85). Heading into the final rotation, Michigan was two tenths behind Ohio State - but the Wolverines were bound for high-scoring floor, while the Buckeyes would finish on the tighter-scored high bar.
"I was pretty confident that if we stayed on our feet, we'd be into the finals," Kelley said.
After four solid routines, Michigan knew it would advance. But as a cherry on top, Kelley added a stellar 15.30 set - and junior Joe Catrambone, performing in Baldus-Strauss' place without warming up, hit every pass in his set to earn a 14.95. In the midst of his routine, just before his wide-arm press to handstand, Catrambone could barely hide a surprised grin.
Though they weren't in much danger of taking an excessive-celebration deduction, the Wolverines glowed with satisfaction after the meet.
"This feeling is something I've never felt before and I can't explain it," Cameron said. "I can't put it into words. . We were in and (the Buckeyes) were out. It's a great feeling."
Along with Michigan, No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 3 Penn State advanced to tonight's finals, where they'll be joined by No. 1 Stanford, No. 4 California and No. 5 Illinois, the top three teams from Session II. Team and all-around finals begin at 7 p.m. in Stanford's Maples Pavilion.