WEST POINT, New York — Fifth-year seniors Ryan McCarthy, Kent Caldwell and Phillip Goldberg made that extra year well worth it Friday when they won the national championship.

After a successful season last year, all three chose to return for one last shot at a title. Having finished as the NCAA runner-up last year, they easily could have walked away satisfied with that.

“It wasn’t all in vain,” Goldberg said. “I remember last year at NCAA, Ryan and me started talking and we were like ‘dude we got to come back’. I kind of already had the mindset that I was, but with that NCAA runner-up finish, I knew we had a chance to win it all. So, I came back with that mission to do whatever I could to help the team.”

In the trio’s first year on the squad as freshmen in 2006, the Wolverines failed to make the top six at NCAA for the first time in nine years and the first time in Michigan coach Kurt Golder’s tenure at Michigan.

Prior to Golder’s arrival in 1997, they failed to make the NCAA Tournament for 12 years in a row.

“When us fifth years came in, we had a lot of hardships,” Goldberg said. “We were one of the laughingstocks of all the NCAA teams. And to come from the bottom all the way to the top, and take it to the promise land, feels real good.”

Since freshman year, the three have been the building blocks behind the rebirth of the gymnastics program. After Michigan’s seventh-place finish during the trio’s freshman year, it went on to place fourth in 2007, sixth in 2008, and second in 2009.

“It’s all about that saying ‘Those who stay will be champions,’ ” McCarthy said, referring to the famous sign put up in the Michigan football team’s locker room in 1969 by first-year head coach Bo Schembechler. “And I’m living it in the moment and that’s incredible. It’s what the team’s all about. It’s just an incredible feeling to be a champion.”

The three contributed high scores this past weekend. McCarthy was the only individual event winner on the high bar, Caldwell was an All-American on the floor and vault, and Goldberg had the second-highest score on a crucial ring routine Friday during the team finals.

Looking past their direct effect on the team, they were the type of leaders that the team needed to be successful.

“It was great to have them stay for the fifth year,” junior Thomas Kelley said. “They’ve been true Wolverines for five years now. They taught us what it meant to really love Michigan and give it everything you have. I remember telling Kent right before his floor routine to do it for Michigan, because that’s what he taught me.”

The success they accomplished this year didn’t come easily. They had to overcome many hurdles early and later on in their careers to achieve so much. Caldwell had a torn stomach muscle as a sophomore, forcing him to have surgery. And McCarthy broke his hand during his freshman year, causing him to redshirt.

“Losing is worse than injuries,” Goldberg said. “When you lose, it does a mental one on you. And to bounce back and keep fighting, to keep working through all the blood sweat and tears, makes it all worthwhile.”

These three, along with seniors Mel Santander, David Chan and Torrance Laury will be missed next year. But the departing seniors are confident the team will continue the success.

“You set the precedent by your work ethic and what you preach,” Goldberg said. “If you walk your talk, the young guys will follow. And that’s what I told them at the end of this championship. I was like, ‘Guys it doesn’t end here. I want this team to become a dynasty.’ With all the new freshmen coming next year, these guys have to set the tone and show these young guys what Michigan is all about.”

Not only are the graduates confident Michigan will continue its recent success, but future leaders on the team are also confident.

“(The leadership) will be really important because we’ll have a young team next year,” Kelley said. “We have quite a few freshmen coming in, so it’s going to be a lot of seniors and a lot of freshman. There’s going to be a nice established system in place for the freshman to come into and take a part of, so they’ll know right away what it means to be a Michigan Wolverine the second they walk into the gym.”

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.