Going into Iowa City this weekend, the No. 4 Michigan men’s gymnastics team is determined not to make the same mistake twice.
Thursday before practice, senior co-captain Paul Woodward reminded his team of the last time Michigan visited Iowa and urged his teammates to take the meet with the utmost seriousness.
Two years ago, Michigan was the fifth-ranked team in the country, and the Iowa trip seemed like a nice breather in the team’s grueling schedule. For the first time in the Kurt Golder era, the Wolverines were poised to beat Iowa head-to-head on the road.
The gymnasts still remember the meet with a bad taste in their mouths.
Michigan posted its lowest score of the season, a humiliating 196.1.
Freshman Jamie Thompson peeled off rings and later had to vault without warming up. Senior Drew DiGiore was unable to perform an easy back uprise on rings. Then, freshman Ryan McCarthy dislocated a finger and senior Derek Croad broke a rib during his floor routine. Even the team’s student trainer spent the night in a hospital.
“We went in there with not a care in the world, thinking, ‘Oh, they’re just a bad team,’ ” junior Jamie Thompson said. “We have to go in there and treat it just like another hard meet.”
Though they’re taking the meet seriously, the Wolverines won’t be sending their entire top squad to Iowa. Juniors Joe Catrambone and Ralph Rosso, sophomores Mel Santander and David Chan and freshman Chris Cameron will stay in Ann Arbor. Catrambone, Rosso and Santander are resting up for Winter Cup the following week. Freshman Thomas Kelley, who will also compete at Winter Cup, is in five event lineups at Iowa to fill in the gaps.
It’s easy to see why Michigan would take the opportunity to rest some of its key gymnasts: No. 10 Iowa’s two showings this year have been pitiful.
To open the season, it finished seventh at the Windy City Invitational. No one present could remember the last time host University of Illinois-Chicago didn’t occupy last place.
And two weeks later, Iowa and UIC faced off again. UIC is rarely one of the 12 teams to make NCAA team qualifiers – a real feat when there are just 17 men’s varsity gymnastics programs in the whole country. No other Big Ten squad would view UIC as anything more than a patsy – no one, that is, except Iowa, which took the meet as seriously as it would if it were facing the No. 1 squad.
Iowa ended up on top, beating the Flames 338.575-334.75.
To put it in perspective, Michigan’s lowest-scoring performance this season was a 344.45.
Tomorrow, several Wolverines will gain important experience. Freshman Ian Makowske will make his Michigan debut in the starting lineup for floor exercise, pommel horse and high bar, with junior John Sawicki also making his first appearance of the year. Junior Ryan McCarthy and freshman Ben Baldus-Strauss are set to compete in their second meet of the season.
But a fair number of Michigan lineup regulars will still provide backup for their more inexperienced teammates.
“It might end up being one of our mid- to weaker team scores, but if we all hit we can still put up a pretty decent score,” Thompson said. “And (for) those who haven’t competed, (this will) just give them meet experience in case we need them.”