At the Windy City Invitational in Chicago on Sunday, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team lined up against five top-16 teams, hoping to establish legitimacy as a national contender.  

But after the meet, the Wolverines’ first of the year, they returned to Ann Arbor dissatisfied. For Michigan, a fifth-place finish in a six-team field did not sit well. 

The fifth-ranked Wolverines (1-4, 0-4 Big Ten) ended up behind four other Big Ten teams — No. 2 Ohio State, No. 6 Illinois, No. 8 Minnesota and No. 9 Iowa — finishing with a 413.700 team score. That put them 12.250 points behind the Fighting Illini, who edged out Ohio State by .250 points to win the meet.  

Senior captain Nolan Novak addressed the team after the meet, telling them to remember the feeling they had at that moment. 

“We need to attack each practice with that feeling in our gut and say, ‘I don’t want to feel that way ever again,’ ” Novak said.

But the end result was not representative of the beginning of the competition for the young Michigan squad. To start the meet, freshmen Anthony MacCallum and Emyre Cole and junior Anthony Stefanelli took to the vault and finished second, third and fifth, respectively. 

They all scored a 15 or higher, and in Michigan coach Kurt Golder’s opinion, the routines should have been scored even higher.

“The first team up normally gets lower scores, then the judges get loosened up as the meet goes on,” Golder said. “I think they were real tight on us in some vaults.”   

Nevertheless, the Wolverines won the vault team event by 1.5 points, a wide margin for a single event.

But after that, the team was shaky, showing its inexperience and youth in events such as the pommel horse, parallel bars and high bar. Michigan finished second to last in all three of those events. 

Part of the reason could be because several Wolverines had to face new challenges in a meet Novak called a “learning experience.”

Novak competed in the high bar for the first time Sunday. Freshman Matt Whitaker, an alternate, was slotted for the parallel bars at the last minute. Sophomore Marty Strech competed in the all-around for the first time in his Michigan career and seven freshmen competed in their first collegiate meet. 

But to Golder, having an inexperienced team means there is much more potential to improve than other top-10 teams. 

“If (Michigan) met Utah in football at the end of the season, we would have beat them,” Golder said. “Hopefully that will happen with our team.”

Though the Michigan football team never got another crack at the Utes, the men’s gymnastics team will face the top two teams from Sunday, Illinois and Ohio State, again later in the season. 

“We’ve got some pretty darn talented guys,” Golder said. “They’re certainly going to be scoring a lot higher at the end of the year than they are right now.” 

Golder said the vault team is already realizing its potential, but the floor team is also very talented and did not show what it’s capable of Sunday. He also foresees improvement in the parallel bars, which was the Wolverines’ downfall this weekend. 

Michigan is now determined to make these improvements. After falling to three teams ranked below them, the Wolverines know they need to perform better in order to reassert themselves as one of the nation’s teams to beat.

“This is going to fuel the fire for the rest of the season,” Novak said. “We have more motivation than anyone else because we have a lot more to prove.”

Michigan hopes to ignite that fire very quickly, as five days of preparation is all the Wolverines have before their next meet. Saturday, they will have a prime opportunity to prove themselves— they will take on No. 1 Oklahoma at Cliff Keen Arena.  

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