Gymnasts who specialize on pommel horse are hard to find.
Pommel horse is one of the hardest events in men’s gymnastics and something on which many gymnasts focus on simply completing, rather than excelling.
But in junior Mack Lasker, the No. 3 Michigan men’s gymnastics team has someone who does just that. Lasker is capable of performing his routine nearly perfectly and earning high scores — his season-high of 14.600 is the fifth-best in the country.
But in Saturday’s meet at No. 7 Nebraska, Lasker and the rest of the Wolverines struggled to work through their early-competition nerves and turned in a weak rotation on the apparatus.
As the first event of the day for Michigan, the low scores on pommel horse put the Wolverines in a hole they couldn’t climb out of as they fell to the Cornhuskers, 408.700-403.800. Michigan had a chance to win the first-ever Big Ten regular season championship outright, but the loss left the Wolverines tied with Iowa for the title.
“If you’re a little bit nervous, you tend to be a little bit tight,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “You’ve gotta really be able to control your nerves on that event. We did get through, all five guys hit, but they just weren’t the performances that they’re capable of.”
Hitting a routine but not quite reaching expectations seemed to be the theme of the day for the Wolverines. Michigan scored below its season average on floor, pommel horse, vault, parallel bars and high bar.
Sophomore Jacob Moore, who ranks second in the nation on floor after scoring a nation-high 15.300 two weeks ago, tallied a 14.300 on Saturday — good for second on the event, but below his average of 14.536.
On vault, sophomore Nick Guy was limited by an injury and had to perform a simpler vault than usual. Guy is typically one of the Wolverines’ leading scorers on vault, but the more simplistic routine received a score of 14.150 — 0.6 below his season high.
“(Guy) has turned in one of the highest scores of our season, but today he did a little easier vault,” Golder said. “They kinda really scored him hard. That hurt us a pretty decent amount.”
While Michigan was trying to get itself out of the hole, the performances that weren’t quite up to expectations didn’t help the Wolverines’ efforts.
And on the other side of the gym, the Cornhuskers were doing just the opposite. They scored above their season average on five of the six events and 10 gymnasts set personal records with their scores.
“It’s hard,” Golder said. “You see they have all the momentum and you don’t. You just keep fighting. It’s a difficult situation. It’s hard to overcome that when they’re just rocking and their crowd’s behind them.”
Michigan’s chance to retake the lead and build momentum of its own was eliminated when two gymnasts — sophomore Anthony Tawfik and sophomore Cameron Bock — fell on high bar.
“It kills (the momentum),” Golder said. “It’s like a turnover in football or something. You just get your steam up, you’re rolling along, and it just cuts it right off immediately. You gotta go through the process of reestablishing it again.”
Bock recovered with a clean routine on parallel bars to tie for second on that event, but the Wolverines’ momentum was already lost.
Nebraska opened the door for Michigan to make a comeback with two falls of its own on high bar. But despite Bock’s parallel bars routine, the Wolverines couldn’t close the gap.
The loss left Michigan tied for the Big Ten Championship — a disappointment after the Wolverines led the conference throughout the regular season.
“It’s definitely (a) disappointment because it’s an opportunity — we know we could’ve won this meet, and it’s an opportunity that slipped through our fingers,” Golder said. “At least getting a share of a title, you know, it’s a reward for the good meets that we did have this year. We had some real tough road meets and did a real good job. It’s a reward for that, and it does take the sting out of a loss this afternoon.”