BY SARA LIVINGSTON
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 21, 2005
The Wolverines just couldn’t escape the lion’s bite Saturday night, as No. 5 Penn State hung on with a firm grasp to defeat the No. 4 Michigan men’s gymnastics team 222.6 to 219.575. When fifth-year senior captain Chris Gatti mounted the parallel bars, the Wolverines were down .4 points and knew they needed to stick every one of their final six routines to even have a chance at beating the Nittany Lions.
After Gatti dismounted to a disappointing score of 8.5 due to a mistaken-ridden routine, the Wolverines kept on cheering, hoping senior Dave Flannery could jumpstart the team’s momentum with a solid routine. But Flannery fell short, and sophomore Andre Hernandez’s 8.975 wasn’t enough to lift the Wolverines. With just three more gymnasts left, the team rallied around junior Justin Laury, hoping he would overcome his aching limbs and have a perfect routine — something the team has come to expect from him. Despite the team’s hopes, Laury’s body got the best of him, and he faltered on the apparatus, scoring an 8.85.
“Individually I came into the meet tired and beat up,” Laury said. “From the moment I walked into the arena, I felt so tired, and I knew that it was going to be a difficult meet.”
Next up was junior Gerry Signorelli, who had been in a “physical slump,” according to coach Kurt Golder. But Golder was optimistic that Signorelli would work his way out of it. Midway through his routine, Signorelli slipped and fell off the bars. Although he re-mounted, he finished with a score of 8.25. Senior captain Geoff Corrigan’s first-place finish of 9.5 was just too late to save the Wolverines.
“It’s always important to close out the meet strong,” Corrigan said. “As a team, we just weren’t able to rally.”
Michigan’s remaining hope to win the match was finally deflated when Penn State’s Luis Vargas scored a 9.9 on his team’s final high bar routine. That performance helped the Nittany Lions outscore Michigan, 38.450 to 35.825 on the last apparatus.
“You have to have a couple guys in a row step up and have career best performances, and we didn’t do that,” Golder said. “That really gives you an emotional boost to build off of, and we never got that boost.
“In practice we were looking pretty good, and I was hoping that would get the meet off to a real good start. And it didn’t go that way.”
Despite the team’s 3.025-point defeat, the Wolverines view this loss as a step up from the one they suffered against Minnesota last weekend. Their team score — which is crucial during Big Ten and NCAA Championships — improved from a 215.925 to a 219.75, and they feel that this is the turning point in their season.
“Every season has its ups and (downs), and that’s just the way it works,” Corrigan said. “We have to have a low point in the season to get back up, and I think we are working up from Minnesota. This is a big jump from as low as we were against Minnesota.”
The team attributes its abundance of missed routines to its weakened lineup — freshmen Dan Rais is still out with a high ankle sprain — and worn down physical condition. But, Golder is aware this is no excuse for posting low scores and will be looking toward this week’s practices to clean up the team’s routines.
“We are going to do some sequence-perfection work this week,” Golder said. “We are going to take a break from doing routines, which don’t focus enough on perfection and quality. That way we can have a little more emphasis on perfection.”
With Michigan’s final home meet next Saturday afternoon against Stanford — a team that beat the Wolverines in their home opener last year — the Wolverines will be looking toward this meet to get back on track and start putting up the team scores necessary to win the Big Ten Championships.
“Next week is a huge meet,” Flannery said. “We need to start building the momentum, and this is definitely the turning point in our season. We need to turn it around and get focused and concentrate and put up a score that is better than what we put up against Oklahoma to turn the season around.”
That score of 222.275 was a Michigan record. But, while the Wolverines want to improve their score in each game, they are more concerned with the big picture — next month’s Big Ten Championships. The team knows it has to patch up Saturday’s lion’s bite and get back on the winning track to ensure another Big Ten trophy.
“I know our team is very confident, and we have a history of stepping it up in the end,” Laury said. “We know from experience that this part of the season is just like practice and warm ups for the Big Tens, and it doesn’t matter that much that we had two losses.
“In the end, you look back, and who is really going to remember Michigan losing to Penn State? All anyone is going to remember is when the Big Ten (Championships) come around.”