With a little extra bounce in its step and enthusiasm in its voice, the No. 5 Michigan men’s gymnastics team kicked off its final week of practice before hosting the Big Ten Championships tomorrow and Saturday at Crisler Arena.
The Wolverines — who have struggled all year on the road (0-5 in away meets) — are looking forward to an extra boost from the home crowd to give them the edge they need to come out victorious. Michigan has never lost at home this season. And, while the championships are held in Crisler instead of the Cliff Keen Arena, the gymnasts know, as long as they are in their hometown, it doesn’t matter where they are playing.
“Having the Big Tens at home will help us tremendously,” junior Gerry Signorelli said. “Even though it’s in a different arena, we still know the same people are going to be there watching us, and we will hear them screaming, and that will help us along.”
Coach Kurt Golder is confident that his team will leave it all on the mats and bring flawless routines out to every apparatus, but he knows the other schools will do the same.
“I think everyone will really step up,” Golder said. “I just think it’s a matter of if we are good enough when we all hit. I think there are a couple of teams in the Big Ten that are better then us — not by a lot though. But I think we have a great competition to bring.”
The Wolverines know every single tenth of a point will count, and the slightest slip up could cause them several spots in the final tally. Inevitably, the burden of perfection will fall on the all-around gymnasts — most likely junior Justin Laury and senior captain Geoff Corrigan. They will be competing in most events and will need to set high scores to allow the lower ones to get cut.
“Everyone is really trying to work on their execution and keeping form,” sophomore Andre Hernandez said. “At Big Tens, every point matters, and every little thing can affect the final standings.”
Despite Michigan’s past struggles on pommel horse, Golder is certain the team’s dynamic and burning desire to win will force it to clean up its routines and prevent the possibility of a disappointing weekend in Ann Arbor.
“Between the home crowds and our strengths as a championship team, we should rock this weekend,” Golder said. “If we don’t, we won’t have the outcome that we want. It’s very, very close. One mistake and it can cost us a couple of spots.”
Statistically, Michigan’s toughest opponents will be No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Illinois. While the Wolverines haven’t seen Illinois since the Fighting Illini won the Windy City Invitational in January, the team’s most recent loss came at the hands of the Buckeyes on March 13.
But, the Wolverines feel their biggest competition will come from within — the team will have to remain focused and confident throughout the weekend to insure success.
“I think it’s just about us being mentally tough and being able to fight through everything,” senior Eddie Umphrey said. “It’s just a matter of getting mentally tough on an event and just fighting through and getting the job done.”
For the seniors, winning the Big Ten Championships would be their way of justifying why they do what they do, everyday. From the hours of icing sore muscles, to early morning weight training sessions, to surgery after surgery, one championship would make all of that dedication to the sport they love worth it to the gymnasts.
“Right now it’s everything — it’s four years of work, injury and pain and everything that I have gone through,” Corrigan said. “It would just be a justification for all of that, and this is why I have been putting my body through so much pain.”
The Wolverines haven’t won a Big Ten Championship since 1999, and the seniors are eager to taste a conference title for the first time. While many of the gymnasts have won individual Big Ten titles in various events, they unanimously feel that nothing compares to winning the conference alongside their teammates.
“The ultimate thing would be to come out and win and be the Big Ten Champions, especially here in Ann Arbor,” Umphrey said. “Being my senior year, this is it for me. I don’t have any rings and nothing to show for my time here in Ann Arbor. I just have a couple medals from here and there but I want the real thing. I want the Big Ten Championship ring.”