Records fell right and left on Saturday night at Cliff Keen Arena.
In its first dual meet of the season, the No. 8 Michigan men’s gymnastics team beat No. 7 Iowa by nearly 10 points with a team score of 217.8. The performance obliterated last year’s record by four full points.
With their decisive victory, the Wolverines proved that last Saturday’s season-opening performance in Chicago was no fluke.
This is a completely different team from last season.
“It just proves that we’re really what a team’s about,” sophomore Kent Caldwell said. “We have a bunch of different people who are all really good at different things. We’re a cohesive unit – we don’t rely on one or two people to carry us.”
Before the meet, Michigan coach Kurt Golder worried his team might not maintain the focus and intensity that helped it cruise to a Windy City win. The Wolverines soon put his mind at ease, winning 5-of-6 individual event titles and setting new records in four (floor, pommel horse, rings and parallel bars). A different gymnast won each event.
Sophomore Scott Bregman set a new floor record with a 9.55 routine – only to see it broken immediately by Caldwell, who scored a 9.7.
“All the pressure was off,” Caldwell said. “(Assistant coach) Scott Vetere told me, ‘All you have to do is have fun.’ . After those first three passes, I could feel it coming. The stick on the dismount – I’ve been working for that so hard. . I could feel it in the air.”
Senior co-captain Justin Laury broke the team pommel horse record with a 9.1, and sophomore Ralph Rosso posted a sparkling 9.7 to break the previous high mark on rings. Junior Dan Rais and sophomore Joe Catrambone won vault and high bar, respectively, both posting 9.0 scores.
On the parallel bars, senior co-captain Andrew Elkind executed a near-flawless routine, earning him a score of 9.8 and the Newt Loken Award for best performance of the meet.
“I’ve done a couple of those in practice, but until you do it in a meet, it’s not as pure of a feeling,” Elkind said. “It was great. I had trouble on other events, and by the time we got to (parallel) bars, I was like, ‘The team has got my back. The team is doing this, and I just gotta get my part in.’ So that’s what I did.”
Michigan set the tone for the whole meet with its very first event, floor exercise. Every gymnast posted a score of 9.0 or higher, and by the end of the first rotation the Wolverines already had a sizeable six-point lead. As Iowa struggled, Michigan continued to excel, never allowing the Hawkeyes within striking distance. Rather than feeling pressure from the boisterous, larger-than-normal crowd, the Wolverines seemed to feed off the electrifying noise.
One of the most astounding performances of the night came from Justin Laury. The fifth-year senior did his first rings routine of the year in practice on Thursday, and by Saturday, he was in the starting lineup. He nailed his routine as if he’d been practicing for months, notching a 9.35.
Even though Iowa was not the toughest opponent the Wolverines will face this year, the win was an important one for Michigan. Two of the most challenging dual meets of the season are approaching quickly.
Next Saturday, the Wolverines take on two-time defending national champion Oklahoma in Ann Arbor. The following weekend they travel to Penn State to take on the No. 1-ranked team in the Big Ten.
For the Wolverines, sustaining their momentum and fine-tuning their routines will be key to success in the next two weeks, especially when it comes to holding strength skills on rings.
“I think that with OU’s talent, we’re going to have to go even higher (than 217.8),” Rosso said. “Most of them have a national championship ring or two, so they all know how to compete. . We need to get ourselves ready. We want to beat OU bad.”