Heading into the final event, the No. 1 Oklahoma men’s gymnastics team had done almost everything right. The defending national champions had scored higher than No. 10 Michigan in every event, asserting their ranking in every way to the crowd at Cliff Keen Arena.
The Wolverines were already out of contention for the match when senior Nolan Novak approached the high bar to attempt the event for the second time in his career. Yet behind him, the team yelled and chanted “Let’s Go Blue” in unison with the crowd. Novak hit his routine, as did his teammates redshirt freshman Marty Strech and junior Jonathan Chin, earning ecstatic cheers from the crowd.
The crowd recognized a solid effort by the Wolverines — the team improved its season-high parallel bar score by 6.05 points and its high bar score by 4.8 — at the end of a blowout loss.
Michigan (0-4 Big Ten, 1-5 overall) fell by a score of 444.400-428.350 to the Sooners (5-0 overall) on Saturday, but after the meet, the attitudes of the players and Michigan coach Kurt Golder were more positive than negative.
“Overall, I was pretty pleased,” Golder said. “As long as we’re getting better with every meet, we can keep climbing the ladder and see how high we can get by the end of the year.”
But many improved performances were overshadowed by Oklahoma’s dominance.
Junior Anthony Stefanelli hit both of his routines, including an impressive 15.150 on the floor, good for third place. Stefanelli, however, was the only Wolverine in the top seven in that event. All-American sophomore Dmitri Belanovski scored a career high on the pommel horse with a 14.750, but didn’t even place in the top three in the event.
Oklahoma took first place in all six events, as well as in the all-around. Belanovski had a chance to compete for the all-around title going into the final event, the high bars, which he calls his “best event,” but he fell and scored a 13.800.
“I’ve got to learn to finish,” Belanovski said. “I hit the first five, but you’ve got to go out there and hit the sixth event. I can’t make a mistake like that.”
Meanwhile, Yul Moldauer from Oklahoma scored an incredible 16.000 in his final routine to take the meet by more than a point. Belanovski finished tied for third in the all-around.
Michigan is pleased with its improvement of 15 points from its performance at the Windy City Invitational on Jan. 17, but after facing Oklahoma, it knows how much work is left to do.
Saturday, the Wolverines hit 75 percent of their routines, up from 50 percent the previous weekend. Golder wants to get that number up to between 80 and 85 percent, which he says is championship form. Golder is looking for Michigan to increase the degree of difficulty in its routines as well.
“The routines these guys are doing may not look easy, but by our championship standards, some of them are easy,” Golder said.
For the athletes, the key to achieving Golder’s goals will be keeping energy high and maintaining confidence throughout meets. When the Wolverines rallied behind Novak on the high bars, that mindset was on full display.
“It’s all about keeping the energy up,” Belanovski said. “If the team’s not behind you, you’re going to go out there and you know you’re going to flop, you’re gonna fall.”
“I truly believe that this team, when it’s six up six count, can go 36 for 36. And I think this year especially, that’s what it’s going to take. This team can do it.”