In its first dual meet win of the season, the No. 10 Michigan men’s gymnastics team exceeded expectations by upsetting No. 8 Penn State on Saturday afternoon. The Wolverines won five out of six events and earned their highest score of the season in their 431.650- 420.700 win over the Nittany Lions.
The meet started with a clean bout of floor routines from Michigan, which jumped out to an early lead. Junior Anthony Stefanelli earned the highest Wolverine score of 14.850, but Penn State’s Alexis Torres ended up scoring a 14.900 to secure the lone event win of the day for the Nittany Lions.
Though it out-performed Penn State in almost every event, Michigan found a bit of trouble in the second rotation.
The Wolverines have struggled on pommel horse this season. Their falls in the event led to a loss against Ohio State earlier this year, and that continued against the Nittany Lions. Michigan’s first two competitors — freshmen Samuel Su and Anthony McCallum — slipped off the apparatus to begin the event. Senior Nolan Novak brought confidence back to the Wolverines with a score of 14.800 in the anchor position, earning the event title for Michigan and restoring the team’s lead.
“We started out with two misses on pommel horse,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “But the next guy up handled the adversity and we finished with three hits in a row, and then kept going. It seemed like whenever we had a problem, the guys didn’t let it get to them.”
Despite the falls on the pommel horse, Michigan did not appear to have as many problems as its opponents did. The Nittany Lions suffered an injury in the second round after Dominic Difulvio landed awkwardly on the floor. Later, Wyatt Tyndal careened down from the high bar and almost collided with the equipment. But these lapses went unnoticed by the focused Wolverines.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know how they were doing until the end,” Nolan said. “I think that’s just a combination of something that we really put emphasis on this meet, just trying to beat ourselves from last week.”
Sophomore Dmitri Belanovski won his first event — the parallel bars — last weekend in Illinois. He rode his momentum through the week to win two events in the dual meet, the parallel bars and the high bar, earning respective scores of 15.250 and 15.200. He stuck both of his landings on those events, which was a huge factor in helping him win the all-around, with a score of 87.100.
Redshirt senior Collin Mahar also managed to improve upon his past performances, earning a score of 15.600 on the rings in the third rotation. His steadiness and stuck landing earned him not only the event title, but also the Newt Lowken Award for most outstanding routine as well as a career high.
Freshmen Emyre Cole and McCallum placed second and third, respectively, in the all-around. During the fourth rotation on vault, they both stepped up to the plate as young leaders when their teammates fell short. Belanovski came close to faceplanting on his landing, and redshirt senior Michael Strathern fell backwards on his landing after getting too much air. But Cole’s round-off entry and his near-perfect landing earned him a 15.400, while McCallum, who was not to be outdone, stuck his landing after a few flips in pike position and earned a 15.450.
“We had a lot of confidence this week in practice and it definitely showed,” Cole said. “Penn State was a beatable team this week. We just wanted to get that home victory and we finally got it.”
Added Nolan: “Overall, it was a good meet for us, we hit a season high today which was great. But I think the best part about that is that we’re starting to minimize mistakes. We still had a few, but it’s a lot less than what we had been making earlier in the season.”
The Wolverines, who had previously been 0-6 in Big Ten play, seemed to finally find their rhythm against Penn State.
“I think we might just be peaking at the perfect time,” Golder said.
With only one meet left in its season, Michigan may be able to ride this meet’s momentum through the Big Ten Championships and turn its season around.