OAKLAND, Calif. – The night of the Pacific Coast Classic wasn’t one the Michigan men’s gymnastics team will treasure – the Wolverines finished fourth of six teams with a 348.95 score.

But for many of the Wolverines, that afternoon was one they won’t forget.

Meet director Karen Owoc informed Michigan coach Kurt Golder the week before that his non-starters were welcome to compete in the afternoon session. Michigan brought 20 gymnasts to Oakland, Calif., five more than usual, and seven extra athletes got the chance to compete.

“It was pretty much disbelief,” sophomore Evan Heiter said of his reaction to the news. “That’s never happened before . to be able to go out of Ann Arbor and put the block ‘M’ on my chest, it took like a week to set in.”

Non-starters from Stanford also participated, along with Iowa’s full squad and club teams from Arizona State and the University of Washington. The Arizona State gymnasts had a harder day than most. To earn money for their team, they transported all the meet equipment about 750 miles from Phoenix and served as the meet’s setup and tear-down crew.

For sophomores Heiter and Joe Levine, it was their first time competing for Michigan outside of the preseason intrasquad. Most of their teammates in the starting lineup for the evening session clustered by the floor in a show of support.

Heiter was the first Wolverine to perform, sticking his layout vault as his teammates in the cheering section whooped.

“It’s kind of hard to imagine that it happened,” Heiter said. “It was a big honor for me to go. It was good to do well in the first event, just because it was the first one for Michigan of the day.”

Levine competed on parallel bars and pommel horse, scoring a 12.45 and 12.75, respectively.

“I was kind of nervous, because I hadn’t really competed except for intrasquad since I got to school,” Levine said. “Once you get that first event under your belt, you’re usually good to go.”

Michigan’s more experienced gymnasts also shined in the early session.

Senior co-captain Paul Woodward zipped smoothly through his pommel horse set and earned the top score. Junior Ryan McCarthy and Woodward tied for fifth on the parallel bars. On the high bar, junior Jamie Thompson was second to U. S. Senior National Team member Justin Spring.

“I’m an Olympic hopeful!” Thompson joked afterward. “I was within a tenth of Justin Spring.”

Though the scores didn’t help the team’s cause later that night, the early session brightened an otherwise dismal day. And those seven Wolverines gained valuable competition experience, showing the depth of talent that could make Michigan a champion.

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