NORMAN, Okla. – Senior Drew DiGiore had been retired less than 24 hours when the special magic that has marked his career struck once more.
Friday night, DiGiore sat in the stands at Oklahoma’s Lloyd Noble Center, ready to watch eight of his teammates compete for spots in the individual event finals. The previous night, he had taken a medium-sized step on his landing for vault, which cost him a spot in the individual qualifiers.
But during vault warm-ups, Nebraska’s Tony Burtle landed awkwardly and fell, clutching his knee. With Burtle unable to participate, DiGiore was back in the vault competition.
“I had no idea (that I was first alternate),” DiGiore said. “And I was in jeans, and I’m sitting here going, ‘I don’t have anything! I don’t even have my uniform!’…And (Michigan coach Kurt Golder said), ‘Shhhh, I told (the judge) you were all ready to go.’ The guy was right behind him. It was crazy.
“(I was) stretching in the van on the way (back to the arena from the team hotel), doing splits between the two passenger seats. And then I got here and had to warm up by myself. …I just knew it, as soon as I got here. All (Thursday) night, all I could think about was how we could have made things different, teamwise, and a little bit of personal stuff. …Before I even went, I knew (I would hit it), so it was amazing.”
The senior made the most of his second chance. He executed a perfect two-and-a-half twisting vault and stuck the landing flawlessly. The Michigan fan section, stationed right at the end of the vault runway, exploded into joyous cheers. DiGiore earned a 9.7 score, the highest vault score of the night, and moved on to event finals on Saturday.
Unfortunately the Cinderella magic did not extend to the entire Michigan team. For the first time since 1998, the Wolverines failed to qualify for team finals. In Thursday night’s evening session, Michigan finished fourth behind eventual champion Oklahoma, Illinois and California.
Once again, the pommel horse proved to be the Wolverines’ downfall. Only freshman Ralph Rosso (8.45), who advanced to individual event qualifiers on Friday night, scored above an 8.0. The total score for the event was 31.05, which spelled doom for the Wolverines’ hopes of advancing to team finals.
Michigan also did not score as high as usual on its two best events, the floor exercise and vault.
“Floor and vault are where we really shine, and where I think we did a pretty darn good job, we just didn’t get the scores that we should have,” Golder said. “That wouldn’t have made up the whole difference for us to qualify. The problems that we had on parallel bars and on high bar with missed routines, I wouldn’t blame on what happened on floor an hour (before).
“(California) made a lot of mistakes on pommel horse and opened the door for us. What we needed to do was have solid (parallel) bars and solid high bar, and we were sort of fifty-fifty, just so-so. If you’re on the outside, the underdog, you’re not going to advance.”
The team did not come away with the NCAA title, but its two members who made event finals, DiGiore and fellow senior Luke Bottke, both became All-Americans to close out their collegiate careers. DiGiore notched a 9.412 on the vault, placing fifth, while Bottke scored a 9.25 on the floor exercise to finish eighth.
Even though they wished more of their teammates could have qualified to event finals, the best friends were glad to share their final competition.
“We were laughing together this morning, (thinking), ‘What are the odds that it would be both of us (in our final competition)?'” Bottke said. “I know in previous years we’ve kind of given each other a hard time, because in the championship meets either he would have a really good meet or I would have a really good meet. It never seemed like we could both be there in (the) finals at the same time. …It’s great to go out this way.
“I wish we would have had more guys (in event finals), but if it could only be one other person here, it’s cool that it (was) Drew.”