Championship caliber teams need strong leadership in their pursuit of greatness. Whether it comes from a player or coach, it’s a vital component for any team working to be the best.
For the Michigan men’s gymnastics team, that’s senior Adam Wooten.
A two time All-American, Wooten finished third his sophomore year and seventh his junior year in the high bar event at the NCAA championships. Now a senior, Wooten is looking to finally bring home a national title. However, individual glory is not all he has his sights set on.
“To win the (team) NCAA’s, that is the plan,” Wooten told The Daily. “All my individual goals pale in comparison to that big one.”
Wooten’s team first mentality is especially important for a group like Michigan, a team that has won the last two Big Ten Championships but has fallen short of the ultimate NCAA title. The Wolverines feature standout athletes – senior Paul Juda, for example, won two NCAA titles last year in the vault and all around events, accounting for 85.298 of the teams 414.490 points at the 2022 NCAA Championships. But they just need a stronger overall team showing to walk away with the ultimate team prize.
One way in which Michigan has worked toward improvement is increasing its potential for points in each event.
“We’ve been doing a really good job of pushing the difficulty,” Wooten said. “We are doing harder gymnastics than a lot of us have done in the past.”
Wooten is referring to the aspect of gymnastics scoring where difficulty is taken into account. Half of the score revolves around execution, while the other half hinges on how hard a gymnast’s routine was. This offseason, the Wolverines have upped their difficulty in hopes that it pays off with more points later in the season.
Another big aspect of Michigan’s offseason was the addition of five freshmen. Landon Blixt has been the most consistent contributor early in the season, competing in the all around event and finishing strong particularly in the rings and floor events. Beyond Blixt, Fred Richard has shown his strength in the horizontal bar event, even beating out the veteran Wooten in his first collegiate appearance on Jan. 7.
“They are showing their talent,” Michigan coach Yuan Xiao said Jan. 7. “Fred Richard, in his three competitions had high value, I’m going to push him to the next level.”
The Wolverines’ freshmen have proved early in the season that they could help push this already-successful team over the edge. The leadership of Wooten and his co-captains has been, and will continue to be, essential to helping them find consistent success in their first season.
“One thing we tried to do is make sure everyone on the team knows what is expected of them,” Wooten said. “Our freshman class is ridiculous, every single one of them. Both in athletic ability and who they are as people.”
Mixing a group of experienced athletes with a talented young cohort can lead to growing pains, but Michigan’s leaders, especially Wooten, have shown that they are willing to push the young athletes and help them in any way as they grow.
As the Wolverines continue their young season, Wooten looks to continue having successful finishes and leading his team toward their ultimate goal. With no national championships on their resume since 2014, the Wolverines are hungry for another one. Hard work over the summer and fall in preparation for a title run has given Michigan the confidence it needs. The leadership of established veterans, combined with young promising athletes, further sets up the opportunity to add to the trophy case.
Wooten’s words make it obvious: Going home without the championship at the end of this season would be a disappointment.
Now the Wolverines and Wooten have to go out and put their money where their mouth is.