For the Michigan men’s gymnastics team, “upperclassman” is almost a foreign word this season.
After winning back-to-back national titles in 2013 and 2014, the senior-led roster was drained, forcing the team to rebuild with younger gymnasts. With just four seniors and three juniors out of a group of 24, this year’s team dynamic is different than two years ago — and almost any other in the country.
“It’s been a little hard so far coming in with all of these freshmen,” said freshman Emyre Cole. “We’re definitely learning; we’ve made some mistakes.”
The team is led by 13 freshmen and four sophomores, a recipe that has been causing some issues for the Wolverines (1-6 Big Ten, 4-9 overall) this season.
Yet, as the season has progressed, the athletes stepping up the most for Michigan have been a pair of freshmen: Cole and Anthony McCallum.
“They both got off to a slow start,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “This is quite an adjustment from junior programs, (where) you go to long competitions where there is no support, nobody cheering for you, and you have a meet every three to four weeks. Now you have one every weekend … but they’ve been picking it up.”
Throughout the year, both McCallum and Cole had competed in multiple events each meet, with McCallum having competed in the all-around previously. But Saturday’s meet against Penn State marked the first time both of them competed in the all-around.
In his debut performance, Cole showed that he had been making the progress Golder was talking about, narrowly finishing in second with a score of 86.850. In every event but the rings, Cole came in the top five, including finishing second in the vault only 0.050 points shy of first.
McCallum also had a good night, finishing third in the all-around with a score of 85.400. Though he was more inconsistent than his teammate, he also excelled in the vault, narrowly beating out Cole to take home the crown in the event.
“It’s still strange because I didn’t know how much the team was going to rely on me,” McCallum said. “Now I’m kind of comfortable in that position (where) the team needs me, and hopefully the rest of the team can get stronger so I’m not as relied on. But I kind of own that position now; I think that’s the best thing to do in the situation.”
Fortunately for the rest of the team, McCallum and Cole seem to be peaking at the right time. The Wolverines have only one more dual meet, against a University of Illinois at Chicago team they defeated earlier this season, before competing in the Big Ten and NCAA Championship meets.
And even if this season doesn’t end in anything special, McCallum’s and Cole’s early-learned expertise and leadership should be beneficial down the road.
“Now that we’re in March, they’re finally in shape,” said senior Nolan Novak. “They’re getting the groove of things. They’ve stepped up and kind of fit the shoes of being an all-arounder already, so that will bode well for them when they’re seniors.”