STATE COLLEGE — Just one routine from the end of Saturday night’s meet, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team brimmed with confidence. The second-ranked Wolverines seemed on the verge of pulling off an improbable win against No. 3 Penn State in the famed Rec Hall.
One set and a few calculations later, the Wolverines’ smiles vanished.
Despite its comeback efforts in the final two rotations, Michigan came up just short, losing 348.90-348.35 to the Nittany Lions.
The Wolverines were stunned, and they weren’t alone.
“I did have several Penn State fans tell me the wrong team won tonight,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “When you get the home crowd coming up and telling you that in private, that’s an indication that maybe things weren’t quite the way they should have been.”
In the final two events, Michigan grabbed for the victory with both hands and outscored Penn State by nearly two points. With intense and unfaltering energy, the Wolverines turned in a solid showing on high bar and then appeared to put the meet away on parallel bars.
After a missed opening routine on the final event, Michigan got right back on track. Senior Ryan McCarthy whooped with glee as he finished his set. Sophomore Chris Cameron, who last week was named Big Ten and NCAA Gymnast of the Week, reacted with confidence as he finished Michigan’s last routine, smiling and pointing happily to his teammates on the sideline.
Meanwhile, the pressure seemed to get to Penn State, especially on the high bar, where its first four competitors fell. Each fall means a full point deduction from the total score. Michigan had all the momentum and, after Cameron’s set, thought it had the win.
But there was one routine left: Penn State senior Casey Sandy on the high bar. From the running totals on the scoreboard, everyone in the arena knew precisely what Sandy would need to give his team the win.
And the judges gave it to him. The 15.45 score bumped Penn State into the lead.
The Wolverines refused to lay blame on anyone but themselves for the loss.
“There’s no way we should have lost to them,” Cameron said. “We’re good enough to beat them and we didn’t perform tonight the way we should’ve. … We put it in (the judges’) hands. We let them win.”
Golder chose sophomore Adam Hamers as his unofficial Newt Loken award winner for the best performance of the night. The meet’s second competitor on pommel horse, Hamers might have gotten overlooked in the fight to the wire. But after being out of competition for a year and a half, Hamers not only hit his set in his college debut, he won the event (14.60).
Neither pommel horse, Michigan’s traditional nemesis, nor low-scoring vault was the major factor in the loss. The real shock came in Michigan’s second event, floor.
Historically one of the team’s biggest strengths, floor was where the Wolverines lost the meet. Only freshman Syque Caesar and Cameron, who won the event with a 15.10, managed scores above 14. Where the Wolverines should have had a team total around 60 points, they scored just 57.10.
“If we had hit some solid sets on floor, which we had been hitting all week, it wouldn’t have been an issue,” senior Jamie Thompson said. “So it comes down to, it’s our fault.”
Michigan is determined that nothing similar will happen for the rest of the year — especially not when it hosts the Big Ten Championships in April.
“We’re a better team than they are,” McCarthy said. “We’ll give it to them tonight, but we’re not going to give it to them at Big Tens.”