While the season is still in its infancy, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team has been no stranger to adversity so far.
With two out of their top four all-around gymnasts unavailable due to injury, the Wolverines featured a youthful lineup this Saturday at Ohio State, as freshmen Mack Lasker, Mitchell Brown and Thomas Paul made key contributions. But the eighth-ranked Buckeyes simply had too much talent and veteran experience, sending Michigan back from Columbus with a decisive 422.200-404.950 loss.
“We knew that we were going to start out weak,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “We’ve had some all-around guys that were recovering from a surgery. We’re getting them back and hopefully the last half of the season will be a lot stronger than the first half, and then we’ll be in real good position for next year.”
The overall team score marked a season-high for the 10th-ranked Wolverines, as did their totals on pommel horse, still rings and parallel bars. But while these highlights weren’t enough against Ohio State, Golder was quick to take away the positives from this meet compared to the Wolverines’ last competition at Oklahoma, including that the Wolverines increased their percentage of stuck routines from 60 to 76 percent.
“I think they’re learning how to compete,” Golder said. “They’re getting better, their hit percentage and stuck landing percentage is better. We’re just trying to finish the season strong.”
For the third straight meet, Michigan’s sophomore Emyre Cole was the most consistent performer. Cole led the Wolverines in two events: the parallel bars, where he recorded a score of 14.200, and in the vault, where his 2.5-twisting Yurchenko was good for a 14.600 and the Wolverines’ only event title.
On floor, Michigan saw contributions from two of its more experienced athletes. Senior Anthony Stefanelli finished runner-up with a 14.250, while sophomore Anthony McCallum’s score of 14.200 placed third.
As one of the few upperclassmen on Michigan’s roster, Stefanelli put together a gritty performance despite rolling his ankle 10 days ago. With a stuck landing on vault, he posted a 14.300 to boost the Wolverines in that event.
“He did what a coach would want their guys to be: tough enough and strong enough to do,” Golder said.
Other key performances included junior Dmitri Belanovski, who paced the Wolverines by sticking his landing on the high bar to earn a score of 14.000, which was second individually. On rings, Paul placed second with a 14.100 while sophomore Ryan Dunning was close behind him at 14.050. Leading the way on pommel horse was sophomore Uche Eke and freshman Mack Lasker, who posted identical scores of 13.750.
Overall, Golder saw the meet as a progression from the previous week, but he recognizes that growing pains will continue to come for his young squad. With this in mind, his team scheduled meetings with sports psychologists in order to get a handle on the nerves and atmosphere of competition.
“We’re learning,” Golder said. “With a young team you got to learn what works and what doesn’t work. We’re learning how to talk to them, and just trying to get it all figured out.”
While Golder’s central message after the competition was that of the adversity that Michigan has experienced, he remained focused on the elimination of errors that have cost the Wolverines so far. In a precision-based sport such as gymnastics, just one missed skill can have disastrous results.
“It’s like if a receiver catches nine passes in a row, and then drops the last one in the end zone and you lose the game,” Golder said.