Justin Hopgood had competed just five times in his Michigan career.
In 2017 — his sophomore year — he competed four times on high bar, earning a high score of 14.40 in his first-ever competition. Last year, he competed just once on floor exercise for the Wolverines.
But on Saturday, Hopgood stepped up to the high bar with Michigan looking for a hit routine. Michigan had earned a lackluster 66.30 on parallel bars, with just two scores above the 12-point range. On the next rotation, high bar — Hopgood’s specialty — the Wolverines needed to get things back on track.
Hopgood calmly delivered to the tune of a 13.950 score for a clean routine that ended with a stuck dismount. And while Michigan competed on that apparatus early in the meet, his score held up throughout the rest of the meet, and he notched his second career event win.
In part thanks to Hopgood’s routine, the Wolverines went on to place second out of the six teams at the Windy City Invitational with a score of 402.00.
“It was surreal,” Hopgood said. “There’s really no feeling like that, hitting a great set and then finishing it off with a stuck dismount and then going back to a bench full of guys that had your back. There’s nothing that compares to that.”
Prior to Hopgood’s set on the high bar, Michigan struggled on parallel bars, its first event of the night. It was similar to last April at the NCAA Championships, when the Wolverines began the meet on parallel bars and put themselves in an insurmountable hole.
When faced with the choice of which event to start on at the Windy City Invitational, Michigan coach Kurt Golder decided to face the Wolverines’ demons head on and start on the parallel bars.
“We did a pretty decent job there,” Golder said. “Not fully what we’re capable of, not what we’ve done in practice, but we came away — that being our first event, usually you’ll see scores escalate throughout the meet, but one of our guys held for the first-place score, (junior) Mitchell Brown. We were really pleased with that.”
Brown has been a more consistent figure in the lineup than Hopgood, but his role is typically to contribute a clean, dependable routine — not to be one of Michigan’s highest scorers.
But when Brown took his turn on the parallel bars on Saturday, he flipped and swung his way to a score of 14.350, a career high and three-tenths of a point higher than the next closest competitor, sophomore Cameron Bock. The two Wolverines were the only gymnasts to score above 14.00 on the event.
“(Brown) has kind of been a regular for the last couple years, but never producing the super big scores,” Golder said. “For him to come out the champion, and particularly that being our first event, was really good.”
But Brown and Hopgood weren’t the only gymnasts who notched event-title wins on Saturday.
Sophomore Nick Guy’s score of 14.50 on vault put him in a three-way tie for first place on the event and broke his previous career high by a tenth.
Outside of the three event-title wins — and Bock winning the all-around title — the nerves and jitters that come along with the first meet of the season reared their heads for Michigan. Multiple gymnasts fell or had other large mistakes, which left the Wolverines settling for second place rather than the meet win they felt they were capable of.
“I’d give us a B,” Golder said. “The one thing is, all the other teams had a competition before this. Usually, you get a lot of the bugs out between the first and second competition, so I think they were all at a little bit of an advantage to us.
“We hung in there with them, but like I said, you can never be satisfied if you could’ve won and you didn’t win.”