After only one rotation at the NCAA Championships, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team found itself deep in a hole it couldn’t get out of. In the preliminary round, early difficulties resulted in a fourth-place finish with a score of 400.590, just over two points under the score needed to qualify for the team final.
Season-long inconsistencies on parallel bars returned at an inopportune time. Senior Dmitri Belanovski had difficulty in his routine, and juniors Emyre Cole and Anthony McCallum each fell once during their routines and again on their dismounts.
Sophomore Mitchell Brown hit a clean routine, but the lower difficulty of his routine earned him a score of 12.833 — not enough to help the Wolverines stop the bleeding. Freshman Cameron Bock also performed well and scored 13.866, but the troubles resulted in a team score of just 61.465 — the team’s lowest on parallel bars for the season by nearly a point.
“We thought if we faced our problems early, we’d have more time to recover if we did in fact have problems,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder of the decision to begin on parallel bars. “Then, of course, we had huge problems and weren’t quite able to dig out of the hole that we dug ourselves into.”
The Wolverines tried to get out of the hole on high bar, a typical area of struggle for Michigan this season. Friday, however, the team earned a season-high score on the event— but it wasn’t enough to regain the lost ground.
Redshirt junior Alec Krystek led off the Wolverines on high bar and capped his routine with a stuck dismount to score 13.566. Krystek set the tone for his teammates with his clean and confident performance.
“I give a lot of credit to Alec because he was the first one up,” Golder said. “It was after a pretty disastrous start to a national championship, and he got us off to a good start. And everybody followed up.”
Junior Uche Eke matched Krystek’s score, and Belanovski recovered from his parallel bars routine to hit a clean high bar performance and earn a spot in Saturday’s event final with a score of 13.833.
Michigan remained in fourth place despite the strong high bar rotation, and the Wolverines were unable to gain much ground on third-place Minnesota the rest of the day. Nerves crept in for Michigan on pommel horse, resulting in the team’s second-lowest score of the season on the event.
“Just the guys a little bit nervous, a little bit holding back, playing it safe,” Golder said. “And that just, that never works, but no matter how many times you tell someone, it’s a hard thing to learn, and they have to learn it on their own through experience.”
Despite strong rings and vault rotations, the Wolverines fell short of earning a spot in Saturday’s team final, but Bock’s second-place finish in the all-around Friday notched him a place in Saturday’s all-around final.
Bock opened Saturday’s competition with a score of 14.400 on parallel bars, good enough to tie for fifth place and earn him All-American honors on the event. After scoring 13.966 on high bar on Friday, Bock fell on his dismount Saturday and scored 13.033. Another fall on his rings dismount would drop the freshman to 10th place in the all-around competition.
“On high bar, it didn’t look like he was tired,” Golder said. “You gotta kick your toes back toward the bar, and he didn’t do that quite enough, so as soon as he let go of the bar doing his dismount, I knew he was in trouble. … On rings, it might have been fatigue. He just might have been a little tired at the end because he let go a little bit early … and consequently he came up short.”
Freshman Jacob Moore and junior Ryan Dunning joined Bock in earning All-American honors Saturday on floor and rings, respectively.
Friday, Moore stuck three of his tumbling passes on route to a score of 14.200 and a spot in the floor final. He improved on the performance Saturday and scored 14.366 to tie for second place, the highest finish for Michigan on floor since Brian Winkler won the title in 1992.
“It was great,” Golder said. “He actually has done better than that (score), but good enough to be NCAA runner-up as a freshman, that’s pretty darn good.”
Dunning, the Wolverines’ rings specialist, scored matching 13.900s on Friday and Saturday to place third in the rings final. After scoring lower than expected in the middle part of the season, Dunning changed his routine to great success in the last third of the competition year.
“He was performing under what I knew he was capable of, so we were experimenting with routine changes,” Golder said. “Sometimes you have to go through the season making changes, you don’t get it quite right. What you think is working, is gonna work, doesn’t work, and I wasn’t really excited about his new routine until he showed it to me and I went, ‘Yeah, that’s it!’ ”
Though the young Michigan team struggled at times and failed to qualify for the team final, 27 of Friday’s 30 routines will return next season, leaving Golder optimistic about the Wolverines going forward.
But first, they’ll have to fix their issues on parallel bars.
“We definitely — there’s no question about it — we have to get a lot better on parallel bars,” Golder said. “We have a history of having great (parallel bars), like at nationals blowing the field away by a couple of points, and now that did us in big time.”