Anthony McCallum’s vault looked good in the air.
The junior sprinted down the runway, did a half-turn onto the table and catapulted himself high into the air before performing two backflips. But as he landed, he over-rotated his second flip and fell forward.
It was, in a way, a metaphor for the No. 9 Michigan men’s gymnastics team’s meet. Despite leading through the fourth rotations, the Wolverines ultimately fell to No. 1 Oklahoma, 411.650-403.650.
Of course, competing with Oklahoma — whose 82-meet winning streak is the longest currently in NCAA in any sport — is no easy task.
And while Michigan outscored the Sooners in the floor exercise, the event foreshadowed the inconsistency that would plague the Wolverines throughout the meet. Redshirt junior Alec Krystek — a walk-on who has elevated himself to co-captain — hit a near-perfect routine, sticking four of his six tumbling passes for a 14.5 — the highest floor score of the afternoon by nearly half a point.
“(He) competed three events, counted on all three, won floor,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “It’s just, he’s getting the job done.”
But immediately after Krystek’s routine, senior Dmitri Belanovski fell twice and received a meager 10.6, forcing Michigan to count an earlier score of 11.7.
On pommel horse — a historical weakness — the Wolverines flipped the script. Michigan hit all six routines and outscored Oklahoma by over two points on the event. And despite the loss, the pommel horse was a big accomplishment in and of itself.
“It’s just part of the progress showing up,” Golder said.
But the Wolverines forfeited the advantage they had built on still rings and vault. Though clean, their routines lacked difficulty compared to the Sooners. McCallum, the reigning NCAA vault champion, was supposed to remedy that, but he was unable to execute.
“He’s had a couple of rough weeks,” Golder said. “He needs to take a step back, and you need to do that in this sport a lot of times … sometimes you have to take a step back, go back to the basics, perfect your basics, attack it again and work your way forward.”
Just as McCallum couldn’t hold onto his vault landing, Michigan couldn’t hold onto its lead. Though the Wolverines led by a slim margin after the fourth rotation, the Sooners put on a clinic on parallel bars and high bar to claim the lead after the fifth rotation.
Michigan, meanwhile, showcased some impressive skills — McCallum’s 5.8 difficulty rating on parallel bars was second-highest of the competitors — but lacked consistency. Even if they didn’t fall, many gymnasts had form breaks or costly steps on the landings.
“You saw (a) three-time national championship team,” Golder said. “They’re down with two events to go. They got tougher. They got more enthusiastic. We got a little bit quieter.”
Still, it would take near-perfection for any team to beat Oklahoma, and that Michigan came close is a good sign. Though the ultimate result was disappointment, the Wolverines can approach the rest of their season with newfound confidence.
“If you’re gonna win championships, you have to beat the best teams in the country,” Golder said. “We had them on the ropes, and we ended up losing to them. But hopefully, we showed ourselves that we can compete with them.”