Sixty years ago, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team regained varsity status under Newt Loken.
The energetic 89-year-old coach, who guided the Wolverines to 12 Big Ten titles and two national championships in 36 seasons, hasn’t missed a home meet since, even though he retired in 1983.
“I remember him being to pretty much every meet, but I never realized that he’s been to every one,” senior Dan Rais said. “It’s pretty cool to know that someone is so dedicated to our sport.”
And Loken couldn’t have asked for a better meet to wrap up his 60th season watching the team.
On Saturday, No. 5 Michigan will honor Loken’s dedication on Senior Night as it takes on No. 7 Ohio State. The Wolverines look for their first dual-meet victory against their archrival since 2004. In last year’s matchup, the Buckeyes handed then No. 1 Michigan its first dual meet loss of the season.
This year’s squad is determined to end the head-to-head slide. Nationally, Michigan outranks three-time defending Big Ten champion Ohio State on every event.
Though the rivalry still burns strong, the Buckeyes are a little banged up entering their final meet of the season. Three Ohio State seniors were struck with injuries.
Tri-captain D. J. Bucher, who was recently nominated for the Nissen-Emery Award (the Heisman of men’s gymnastics), has been competing through a torn bicep all season. Fellow tri-captain Jimmy Wickham, one of Ohio State’s top floor and vault competitors, sustained an ankle injury that prevented him from competing in the Buckeyes’ most recent meet against Penn State. And last year’s NCAA vault champion, Pejman Ebrahimi, is redshirting this year after breaking his collarbone early in the season.
Injuries have hit Michigan, too. Senior co-captain Paul Woodward will sit out the Ohio State meet with elbow trouble, sophomore David Chan with back problems.
And junior Scott Bregman broke his right ankle practicing his floor dismount last Friday. He had been working on an upgrade to his floor routine. Now, a year after suffering a season-ending ligament tear in his left foot, he’ll have to watch the remainder of the season from the sidelines.
“It sucks to see Scott out twice, at the end of the season,” Rais said. “I think we just need to keep in mind that we need to finish the season real well, hit our routines and do it for Scott.”
Michigan will regain the services of junior Kent Caldwell, who sat out the Illinois meet working on an upgrade for his floor set. His return should help bolster a floor lineup that recorded three falls its last time out.
Even though rankings can be thrown out the window in the intense Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, the Wolverines are confident they can send their seniors, Rais and Arren Yoshimura, out on a high note.
And a win against the Buckeyes wouldn’t be a bad way to celebrate 60 years of perfect attendance for a Michigan coaching legend, either.