Before Saturday, more than a month had passed since the Michigan’s men’s gymnastics team took on a Big Ten opponent. But for the Wolverines, time did not ease their struggles in the conference, as Michigan could not pull out its first Big Ten victory.
Saturday, the 11th-ranked Wolverines (0-6 Big Ten, 3-9 overall) suffered a 434.00-430.500 point defeat at the hands of No. 5 Illinois.
The team’s performance and results, which were disappointing earlier in the season, have yet to rise to the level that Michigan coach Kurt Golder would like. The Wolverines scored 16.8 points higher in Champaign this past weekend compared to their first meet, but the improvement is not nearly good enough to contend on the championship level the 2013 and 2014 national champions are accustomed to.
Training sessions have gone well for the Wolverines, according to Golder, but have not translated into success in meets.
“We all feel like we’re getting better, but it didn’t quite show,” Golder said. “Doing it in practice and doing it in the meet are just two different things.”
Michigan’s hit-routine percentage was 80 percent on their Spring Break trip to Puerto Rico, and Golder was hoping to improve to at least 86 percent for the Wolverines to have a chance at the Fighting Illini. But Saturday, their hit percentage stayed at 80 percent, as key errors nixed the prospect of an upset.
“After two events, and we had made a couple of mistakes, we go, ‘My God, we could have easily not made those mistakes and we could be winning this meet,’ ” Golder said.
Freshman Emyre Cole, a key contributor for the Wolverines all year, recently adjusted his floor routine to be slightly easier, but still couldn’t hit the routine against Illinois.
On high bar, senior Michael Strathern has consistently hit a complex release in practice, but has yet to stick it in a meet. Though Michigan had a chance going into the final rotation, Strathern couldn’t hit his routine on the bar, and the Wolverines scored 1.650 lower than Illinois in the event, sealing the deal for the Fighting Illini.
But still, Michigan has confidence in its ability to rebound.
Junior Jonathan Chin has been an asset this year in the rings, parallel bars and high bar events, but was not in the lineup Saturday. Chin has been battling illness and a back injury, and the Wolverines are looking to get him back for their matchup against Penn State next Saturday.
Also, with 15 freshmen on the team, the young lineup is learning and improving every week. Freshman Anthony McCallum showcased the potential of the freshman class this weekend, as he stuck an event-winning vault routine that Golder thinks was well underscored.
“I don’t think the score he got tonight and all year long reflects just how good that vault is,” Golder said. “The vault that he did tonight would make the final at the World Championships or the Olympic Games, but he’s still beating some of the competitors that he’s going against only by a couple of tenths. Those guys wouldn’t stand a chance of making the Olympic finals. I think the separation should be a little bit bigger.”
All-American sophomore Dimitri Belanovski is also hoping to help the Wolverines improve. Though Belanovski took home a victory in the all-around and parallel bars against Illinois, Golder thinks Belanovski is capable of even more. He set a goal of 90.00 in the all-around for Belanovski, which is over two points higher than his career best.
Two dual meets remain before postseason play, and though Michigan has struggled this season, it feels that there is a path to success and that it is on the verge of finding it.