Michigan gymnastics coach Kurt Golder would love to have more gymnasts like one already on his squad – not exactly surprising. What is surprising is that the athlete is a freshman, Joe Catrambone.

Jess Cox
Freshman Joe Catrambone has wasted little time making an impact for the Wolverines. (EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily)

Catrambone is not only talented – he placed fourth in the all-around competition at the Windy City Invitational in his first collegiate meet – but Golder believes he is quickly becoming a consummate teammate.

The Wolverines first connected with Catrambone at one of the program’s camps. Although Catrambone – a high school junior at the time – would have been recruited regardless, the camp bumped him up on Golder’s list.

“(Michigan) had what I was looking for academically and athletically,” Catrambone said. “I like the coaching staff and the team – everything about Michigan fit what I was looking for.”

Like any freshman, the New Jersey native had to adjust to college life, competition and living away from home for the first time. But the support from his new team, and the seven other newcomers to the squad, eased his transition significantly.

In events like state championships and the U. S. junior championships, competition is focused on the individual. Instead of having 20 teammates cheering at every event, it’s the single gymnast against everybody else.

“(At pre-college competitions) nobody’s pulling for you,” Golder said. “They’re trying to jinx you.”

The individual nature of the sport didn’t seem to affect Catrambone, who was Pennsylvania’s all-around state champion from 2003 to 2005 and also won first place on high bar at the U. S. junior championships during his senior year of high school. But the team atmosphere at Michigan has been a welcome change.

“College gymnastics is a lot different than previous years of junior Olympic nationals and regular regional meets,” Catrambone said. “The guys are behind you 100%, pushing you to do routines and get better in the gym.”

But the person pushing Catrambone the hardest to improve is himself. This work ethic has already impressed his coach.

“Joe is a very conscientious guy,” Golder said. “He’s always going back and checking the board to make sure that everything I have assigned him, he did, before he goes to the next event. He must check that thing 20 times a day. He just doesn’t want to leave without doing anything he’s supposed to.”

Aside from actual gymnastic ability, Golder looks closely at an athlete’s character in determining whether to offer a scholarship. Golder admits that part of putting together a great team is luck, but he also pays more attention to a gymnast’s mental makeup than many other coaches. With Catrambone, Golder believes he hit the jackpot in both areas.

Golder sees Catrambone becoming an important team leader in the future, not only because of his diligent nature but also his personality. The Wolverines can hope that young gymnasts will be attracted to Michigan for the same reasons as Catrambone, and his presence may clinch their decisions.

“His disposition is very outgoing – he’s a very fun guy, a very happy guy,” Golder said. “(Future recruits) will see how he carries himself and want to be teammates with a guy like that. He’ll be a big part in all aspects of leadership and setting an example, having a clean lifestyle, all the way around.”

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