Vance reaches for the stars on rings

BY COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 26, 2009

Few in the University of Illinois-Chicago P. E. Building took notice as a small Wolverine stepped up to the rings halfway through the Windy City Invitational on Jan. 17. The Michigan men's gymnastics team and its fans, however, were riveted. For his first time in college, redshirt freshman Andrew Vance was about to compete.

For rings, the fourth event, all the non-competing Wolverines left the bleachers to cluster by the rings tower. Second in the lineup, his face devoid of emotion, Vance grabbed the rings and smoothly executed his routine, just like in practice.

After he landed his double-layout dismount with a small hop, emotion poured out. Vance yelled and clapped with triumph, even in the middle of his final salute to the judges.

“It was probably the best overall feeling I’ve had in my gymnastics career so far,” Vance said. “It was just an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.”

Vance arrived at Michigan as a walk-on last year, and when he sprained his ankle in the winter, he knew he couldn’t compete until his second season. So last summer, he attacked rings, his favorite event, with renewed vigor.

It helped that Michigan assistant coach Scott Vetere implemented a tough strength program to improve the ring men's holds and positions. One morning, he put the gymnasts through eight sequences in which they had to hold each position for six seconds. In competition, a gymnast must hold his position for just two seconds to get credit for the skill.

“I felt like I was going to die," senior co-captain Phil Goldberg said. "It really helped (Vance) a lot because he just has a ring-man body.”

Vance, who's about five feet tall, has a comparatively large and powerful upper body. His teammates almost immediately nicknamed him “Midge” upon his arrival, but Vance didn’t take any offense. At his old gym, Michigan Academy in Westland, he was known as “Frog” because as a little boy, his favorite shirt had a picture of a frog on it.

“I’m kind of stuck in a position here where everyone calls him 'Midge,' and I called him 'Frog,' ” said former Michigan gymnast Dan Rais, Vance's roommate. “Now I just call him Andrew, his real name.”

Vance’s ticket into the lineup was a quality vault to go with his powerful rings set. Even competing at the junior level, where everyone has to compete in the all-around, Vance had always focused on rings.

“He knows if he’s just going to do rings, it’s going to be hard for him to compete,” Rais said. “I think he’s found a new love for (vault). Being on the team, it’s a lot more fun than just being on a junior team that’s centered around yourself.”

Goldberg, one of the team’s top ring men, is impressed with Vance's improvement. He said he thinks the Plymouth native may be a secret weapon for Michigan.

“I’m not sure other teams have even heard about him, but he’s definitely an All-American in waiting,” Goldberg said. “He definitely has the ability to do big things in college gymnastics.”