In 2000, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team won its second consecutive Big Ten Championship. The Wolverines, defending national champions with a core of young talent, seemed on track for continued success.
But they haven’t stood atop the Big Ten championship podium since.
“It’s about time for us to win a Big Ten Championship,” assistant coach Scott Vetere said. “Eight years is way too long.”
Confidence among the sixth-ranked Wolverines couldn’t be higher. After three quality meets to finish the season, including a win over rival Ohio State, they’re exactly where they want to be.
“My expectation is to win Big Tens,” senior co-captain Paul Woodward said. “I feel more confident about winning Big Tens this year than I ever have.”
Michigan’s fate may be determined early in tonight’s team finals, as the team will begin on parallel bars.
“That event, if we hit it, I think we’ll win the rest of the Big Ten Championships,” Vetere said. “If we have those sets at Big Tens that we had against Ohio State, we’ll lose right away.”
The Wolverines have held three intrasquads on the parallel bars since the Ohio State meet to prepare for tonight’s opening rotation, and showed marked improvement each time. To replicate the championship atmosphere, the intrasquads were held at the start of practice, with all the gymnasts cheering loudly.
Michigan coach Kurt Golder shuffled the usual parallel-bars lineup for tonight’s contest. Normally, the leadoff man on each event isn’t expected to contribute a counting score, just a solid routine to build from. At Big Tens, Michigan will lead off parallel bars with two of its top competitors on the event, freshman Chris Cameron and sophomore Mel Santander. With two strong sets, Michigan should quickly gather momentum to carry it through the meet.
And with parallel bars first, the Wolverines will also be fresh, which hasn’t been the case in the last three meets. In dual meets, that event is always one of the final two.
Pommel horse, a weakness for most teams, could prove a safety event for Michigan and its steady horse squad. And the team finishes the night on vault, a traditionally high-scoring event that will put the Wolverines in the best position of any team to make a final-rotation surge.
“Ending on vault will be really good – we’ll be really loud,” freshman Thomas Kelley said. “Finishing up, it’s not a nerve wracking event, really. I think the energy will be really good. I think the energy’s been taking hits on p-bars at the end when we miss a few routines.”
Michigan is also eager to return to Penn State’s small and intense Rec Hall. Last season, the Wolverines upset Penn State in a dual meet there. Later, as Penn State hosted NCAAs, they knocked off Ohio State in team qualifiers and finished fourth, earning their first podium finish in team finals in four years.
“It’s crazy there, but I like competing there,” said junior Jamie Thompson, who said he expects a large contingent of Michigan fans to attend.
The Wolverines will face stiff competition in No. 3 Penn State, No. 5 Illinois, and No. 7 Ohio State. But they aren’t hiding their confidence.
“If we hit, we’re definitely the No. 1 team on every event,” junior Joe Catrambone said.
If Michigan wins Big Tens, it will have to do it without its top floor and vault competitors, juniors Scott Bregman and Kent Caldwell. Bregman is out with a broken ankle, Caldwell with a broken hand. But Woodward (pommel horse and parallel bars) and sophomore David Chan (pommel horse, vault and parallel bars) should be returning from elbow and back problems, respectively, to boost the lineup.
“I think when it all comes down to it, we’re all going to step up when we need to and we’re all going to do the job that we’re capable of doing,” Catrambone said. “We’re going to come home Big Ten champions.”