By James V. Dowd
Daily Sports Writer
Coming off a shaky season-opening performance in Chicago last weekend, the No. 7 Michigan men’s gymnastics team looked forward to Saturday night’s home meet against No. 8 Iowa as a chance to get back into the swing of things with the help of the hometown fans. Riding the cheers of families and friends, the Wolverines pieced together a solid performance and defeated the rival Hawkeyes 219.200-215.450.
Michigan started strong, with freshman Daniel Rais winning the floor exercise. In past years, the Wolverines have established themselves as one of the top floor exercise teams in the country. But after struggling with the event in Chicago last weekend, Michigan coach Kurt Golder was pleased to see improvement.
“Our floor exercise was a little better than it was in Chicago,” Golder said. “We kind of half solved that problem, and three-quarters solved the pommel horse.”
While Iowa’s Curtis Kleffman took the top spot on the pommel horse, Michigan took the next four places. The Wolverines were led by junior Justin Laury, who took first in the meet’s all-around competition.
“The one thing I am pleased about is that we stepped it up on pommel horse,” Golder said. “We’ve had a really strong pommel horse team in some years, but, last year, it was a weak event for us. We still have a long way to go before we’re in championship form, but we’ve really improved from last week to this week on that event.”
Laury had completed a near-perfect routine on the pommel horse and a rough dismount was all that kept him from passing Kleffman for the lead. He was able to bounce back with a strong performance in the Wolverines’ last event, the high bar. His performance gave Michigan a needed boost after several Wolverines struggled to finish their routines as planned.
“It felt really good,” Laury said. “It was my first time doing all-around this year, so it felt good to get back on there. The high bar is one of my most consistent events, and I knew we needed a big score. So, mentally, I prepared to go out there and start something.”
After competing in all six events, Laury was pleased to earn the win but said that he felt the added burden of competing in two or three extra events.
Senior Eddie Umphrey, who had fallen ill last week, won the still rings and the vault. After his dismount from the still rings, his celebratory roar brought the crowd to life and helped provide the Wolverines with momentum to close out the victory. Umphrey earned a 9.625 on the rings, the highest score in any event during the meet and a career best for him.
“I haven’t been 100-percent all week,” Umphrey said. “I’ve been down with the stomach flu. I had a little bit of a rough start on the floor, so I knew I had to pick it up. I just wanted to go out there and have a little fun with the crowd and just hit great routines and get the crowd into it and everything just fell into place.”
Umphrey led the Wolverines, with a 9.550 in the vault, helping Michigan capture five of the top six spots in the event. With captain Geoff Corrigan not competing in three events — including the vault, due to a groin injury — Golder was pleased to see Umphrey and his teammates step up their performances in Corrigan’s absence.
“We vaulted the lights out,” Golder said. “I think we broke our school record, and I am real pleased with that.”
Riding the momentum from this weekend’s win, the Wolverines must now bear down on No. 1 Oklahoma. The Sooners visit Cliff Keen Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. While there isn’t the rivalry factor that comes with Iowa, Oklahoma’s top ranking is more than enough to motivate the Wolverines.
“Iowa is one of our archrivals,” Laury said. “We definitely have a big rivalry. Each year we go back and forth. It’s good to get that one under our belt. And we have Oklahoma next weekend, and they are No.1, so we’ll have to turn it on then.”