Wolverines can't hang on in loss to Nittany Lions

Sunday, March 25, 2018 - 7:19pm

Sophomore Mack Lasker had a career-high score on the pommel horse in Michigan's loss to Penn State.

Sophomore Mack Lasker had a career-high score on the pommel horse in Michigan's loss to Penn State. Buy this photo
Aaron Baker/Daily

Mack Lasker finally nailed his pommel horse routine.

While the sophomore specializes on the event, he has struggled throughout this season. But on Saturday, he scored a career-high 14.45 in the No. 7 Michigan men’s gymnastics team’s 405.05-407.35 loss to No. 8 Penn State.

“This year’s been a struggle for me, I’ve only hit one other horse set,” Lasker said. “I’ve just been working really hard on my confidence and everything, and this meet really boosted it.”

The Wolverines began the competition with five clean routines on floor exercise, led by junior Emyre Cole leading the way. Cole scored 14.25, good for the win on the event with freshman Jacob Moore placing third.

Then came Lasker and his teammates’ display on the pommel horse. A week after having six falls across five routines on the apparatus, Michigan had no major mistakes. By far the tallest gymnast on the team at 6-foot-3, Lasker’s long lines brought him success as he tied for first place on the event with the Nittany Lions’ Stephen Nedoroscik, the defending pommel horse national champion.

Senior Dmitri Belanovski started the Wolverines off strong on rings with a simple yet well-executed routine that he capped with a stuck dismount. His score of 14.10 ended up being a team-high on the still rings, an unusual result for the leadoff athlete.

“He kept the momentum going,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “It’s always important to get off to a good start, and that’s what he did. He actually has kind of a pretty easy routine, but he really executes it well. Got the stick, just gets the whole team fired up.”

Sophomore Mitchell Brown led off on vault with a score of 14.30, and his proceeding teammates kept raising the bar. Both Moore and redshirt junior Marty Strech stuck their vaults, and Cole anchored the rotation with a score of 14.75 to win his second title of the day.

“The pressure was on for sure because I wanted to do a great vault, I wanted to stick it,” Cole said. “I didn’t want to under-rotate it or anything so I kind of played it safe, but it was a good feeling just hitting back to back to back, increasing the score again.”

Though the Wolverines teammates put in four solid rotations, the season-long issues on parallel bars and high bar returned for Michigan in the final two rounds of the competition, with three falls occurring on each event.

Brown fell in his parallel bars routine, and junior Matthew Whitaker added two falls of his own moments later. Cole was put in the unenviable position of salvaging the rotation for his team, and he rose to the occasion with a score of 14.35 after ending his routine with a stuck double front dismount.

Bock, competing in the all-around for the first time this season after undergoing surgery in January, followed Cole with a stuck dismount of his own and a score of 14.55, good for second place on the event.

“I’ve been hitting my sets pretty well in the gym lately, so I think I’ve broken through a little barrier in that regard,” Bock said. “Just trying to crank through the set instead of wondering if I’m going to hit it or not, so I think that’s made it a lot better.”

Michigan maintained a narrow lead of just 0.25 points going into the high bar rotation, and five solid routines would likely have been enough to hang on for the win. Redshirt junior Alec Krystek hit a clean routine in the leadoff position, and freshman Jonathan Liu followed with a clean routine of his own.

But junior Uche Eke ran into trouble on a release skill and fell, though he finished with a stuck full-twisting double layout dismount after remounting the bar. Two routines later, Belanovski fell twice after attempting another challenging release skill.

Inconsistency on parallel bars and high bar has been a prominent feature of the Wolverines’ performances this season and is something they will need to improve on with the season drawing to a close. Saturday, the inconsistency cost them one meet. In the postseason, it could cost them much more. 

“We missed two high bar routines last week, and we missed high bar routines this week,” Golder said. “It’s getting down to the 11th hour where if something isn’t working, you gotta take it out, regardless of if it worked last year, your whole career, or not. It’s gotta work now. When you raise your hand in a meet, you gotta hit it.”