Posted Apr. 19
Updated Apr. 20
PALO ALTO, Calif. – For five rotations, the No. 6 Michigan men’s gymnastics team seemed on the verge of the improbable. The Wolverines, as the last team to qualify to Friday night’s NCAA team finals, were expected to come in sixth.
But going into the final rotation, a third- or fourth-place finish was within reach. All Michigan needed was a solid performance on the pommel horse.
But such a showing wasn’t in the cards. Only sophomore David Chan posted a score above 14.00, while the Wolverines watched three of their top gymnasts struggle to subpar finishes. One team after another passed the Wolverines, with Stanford and Oklahoma fans screaming their teams to a photo finish.
Michigan dropped all the way to sixth place with a 354.25 score. No. 2 Oklahoma barely squeezed out No. 1 Stanford for the National Championship with its final rings routine, posting a 363.20.
“We weren’t in a place where we could have gotten first, but we were in a place where we could have gotten on the podium, had we really rocked out four solid pommel horse sets,” said junior Ryan McCarthy, who competed in just his fourth meet of the season due to the injury to freshman Ben Baldus-Strauss. “We just weren’t able to convert on that. It’s slightly disappointing in that aspect, but coming in as an underdog, we had some really big highlights.”
Even in the dismal rotation, where Michigan posted its lowest total of the season (50.60), the Wolverines found positives. Sophomore David Chan delivered his usual excellence, later becoming an All-American on the event. Following the three missed routines, McCarthy came through with a hit to end Michigan’s season.
And with five of their six events, the Wolverines were thrilled. They got a strong start on the opening event, still rings, where junior Phil Goldberg, who gained All-America status Saturday, again topped the rotation with an excellent 15.50. And with vault coming up, the Wolverines needed all the positive energy it could get.
Junior Jamie Thompson had had trouble with the event for the past six weeks. Junior Kent Caldwell, who broke his hand in the team’s final regular season meet, was back in lineup after just four weeks off to fill in for Baldus-Strauss. Sophomore Mel Santander performed his first competition vault of the season during team qualifiers, and in Thompson’s observation, was “scared to death” on Friday night.
But Michigan reeled off six quality vaults in a row. Gymnasts and fans alike erupted as Caldwell earned a 15.50 and Santander stuck his double-twisting vault for a 16.00.
“I knew that there wasn’t a good chance of me making event finals, so it really was all about the team,” Caldwell said. “I’m just honored to be able to compete. To end my season this way is really special.”
And from then on until the disaster on pommel horse, Michigan practiced exactly what it had preached all season. The Wolverines focused only on the job at hand, followed misses with hits and kept their energy high and positive.
After two rough sets on parallel bars, senior co-captain Paul Woodward came through with a hit on his most difficult routine, landing the double front flip dismount he’s been developing for months. Freshman Thomas Kelley, who became an All-American in event finals, turned in a strong routine on high bar that was the second-best of the night (14.90). And on floor, Caldwell, bandaged hand and all, performed a near-flawless set (15.15), despite having just restarted training this Tuesday.
Thanks to its strong performances – and that fact that it was the last team to go on the bye rotation – Michigan sat in first place after five rotations.
But then came the bye, halting the team’s momentum. And then the pommel horse, which had been a solid event for the team all season, resumed its historic role as Michigan’s Achilles heel.
Nonetheless, Michigan coach Kurt Golder was unruffled after the meet, already looking toward next year.
“We sure could have done a lot better,” Golder said. “We didn’t close it out real strong. (But) we’re getting pretty much everybody back, and those teams are graduating a lot of people. We can make a lot of noise next year.”