WEST POINT, New York – Competing to his potential never was his forte. But in his last competition for the Michigan men’s gymnastics team and on the biggest stage, senior Mel Anton Santander laid four years of hard work in the gym out on the floor.

He finished with a score of 88.900 Friday at the team NCAA Championships, good for third in the all-around competition, his first-ever All-America honors. His high scores qualified him for the parallel and the high bars in the individual championships on Saturday where Santander placed second on the parallel bars with 15.050 points and tied for third on the high bars with a score of 14.475.

Santander spent most of his freshman, sophomore and junior years in a slump. Notorious for sitting quietly at meets, mulling over his routine in his head and letting the pressure build up inside him, it wasn’t until the end of his junior season that he began to excel in competition.

“It’s just been a journey for me,” Santander said. “To come all the way from the beginning and I just feel like I peaked at the right time, and it’s just awesome. To finally be an All-American is just absolutely amazing. I’m pretty speechless.”

Before the end of his junior season, Michigan coach Kurt Golder sat down with the whole team to discuss staying loose when competing. It took Santander a few meets to take Golder’s advice to heart, but when he hit every routine at last season’s NCAA team finals–in which the Wolverine’s finished second–it was clear he had set the pressure aside and just had fun.

“People would say that he underachieved for his first three years,” junior and fellow All-American Chris Cameron said. “At this point in the year, he’s been 10 times what many teams hope out of one of their gymnasts. He’s just been a rock. And seeing Mel do that, it feels so great to watch my teammate realize his potential like Mel did this year.”

Calamity on the Rings : A 20-plus foot ladder isn’t normally part of the scene on the floor at the Christl Arena. But Friday night, the ladder was a staple for much of the meet. After the rings broke as an Illinois gymnast was doing his routine, officials had to bring in a whole new set of rings.

It took 40 minutes to secure them and after almost every rotation, the rings were tweaked again.

“We were like alright, just control what you can,” Chan said. “So we stayed loose and when we came back we just came on again. Everyone just picked it up and we rocked the sets.”

The team is accustomed to practicing on the rings at the Coliseum in Ann Arbor and competing on different ones at Cliff Keen Arena. Those rings are notoriously crooked at times so the issues just made the competition feel more like a home match, even though it was 600 miles away.

“I gathered the team together and told them, ‘This is adversity,’ ” Golder said. “The team that handles the adversity the best is going to win this championship.”

And Michigan did just that. Although junior Thomas Kelley fell off the rings, four of his teammates scored above 15 to help propel Michigan to first place–.3 points better than defending champions Stanford, who finished this year in second place.

Soon after, it was ruled that due to the irregularities of the new set of rings and the issues with the ones that had broken, anybody who had fallen off the rings would be permitted a second attempt. The scores weren’t finalized until those second chances were granted.

Kelley took his second chance, turning in a score of 14.750, good for third on the squad to up the Wolverines’ score by .4. Kelley’s final performance widened the gap between Michigan and the Cardinal to .7 points. Michigan was the very clear winner while Illinois remained in fourth place.

Rohan’s season continues :
Freshman Rohan Sebastian, one of two freshmen on the team, is scheduled to compete in the European Championships for Ireland this week and the competition will provide him with much needed experience. Golder will be coaching the Irish national team.

With only a year under his belt, the learning curve remains high for performing in competition – and Golder loves the idea of any extra experience for the freshman.

“He still needs to learn how to compete better,” Golder said. “I try to play the psychologist and try to get a little sudden reinforcement, some subtle hints. I have a style of not making a big deal over anything, just try to move in the direction we have to go.”

Sebastian competed on the floor, the steel rings and the vault, but only his vault score was counted towards the NCAA Championship. Golder hopes practicing in the high pressure situation will help him to perform to his potential when the team needs him in the future.

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