Making it back to Super Six. Finishing fourth at NCAA team finals. On the podium for the first time in four years.

What’s left for the Michigan men’s gymnastics team?

Only the most important goal of all – winning a National Championship, which the team hasn’t accomplished since 1999.

And this year’s squad could be the group to return Michigan to national glory.

The Wolverines lost two All-Americans and a Big Ten high-bar champion to graduation, which hit the rings and high bar teams especially hard. But they added eight freshmen, including three top-flight all-arounders – Ben Baldus-Strauss, Chris Cameron and Thomas Kelley, Junior National All-Around Champion.

The equally large and talented junior class will be hitting its prime, and the senior co-captains, intense Paul Woodward and even-keeled Arren Yoshimura, will provide balanced leadership for the young Wolverines.

“Certainly, I think we’re in contention, but I think this is going to be the closest that it’s ever been, between us, Penn State, Stanford and Oklahoma,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “And I’m sure Ohio State will be a good team again this year. Big Tens and NCAAs are going to be a dogfight like they were last year.”

The home crowd will have plenty of great matchups to watch this season at Cliff Keen Arena.

Defending National Champion Penn State opens Michigan’s home season, followed by preseason No. 1 Stanford and perennial archrival Ohio State, which Michigan has not beaten since 2004.

“I feel like we can pull in a big crowd for all three of them, especially since we did so well last year,” junior Jamie Thompson said. “I think if we do a little better marketing this year, a little better promotion, we’ll pack the place and kick their ass.”

The key for No. 6 Michigan will be to peak at just the right time. The 2007 team, though ranked No. 1 for most of the season, slumped in its final few meets before bouncing back to post its second-highest overall score in NCAA team finals. Assistant coach Scott Vetere said the goal will not necessarily be to win every dual meet, but to improve steadily throughout the season.

This year’s schedule will help with the season-long grind, providing at least two more bye weekends than normal. Gymnasts who don’t compete at Winter Cup, the February meet in which American gymnasts compete for spots on the national team, will have three weekends off.

The effects of the changes to the Code of Points, gymnastics’ scoring system, remain to be seen, but the Wolverines should post consistent, solid scores on most events, thanks to world-class routines and improved depth. Pommel horse, often the crucial event for winning a meet, should be especially strong.

“If we don’t win every meet on horse, it’s just because we fell,” Cameron said. “If we hit on horse, I don’t think any team in the country can beat us.”

The team will face its first test in Chicago at the Windy City Invitational, which could be a preview of NCAA team finals. In addition to the usual five Big Ten teams (Penn State doesn’t participate) and host University of Illinois-Chicago, top-ranked Stanford will attend the opening meet of the season. Every team except UIC has a legitimate shot at advancing to Super Six in April.

Bregs explains the new code

By Scott Bregman, Men’s Gymnastics Junior

When Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10.0 in the 1976 Olympic Games, she put gymnastics on the sporting map. It is ironic, then, that when Yoo Won Chul of South Korea recorded the highest score in gymnastics history at the 2006 World Championships (15.75), few people noticed. Yoo was the first gymnast to compete using the new open-ended scoring rules put into effect by the International Federation of Gymnastics after the judging controversies at the 2004 Olympic Games.

The new scoring system consists of difficulty and execution scores, which are added together. The difficulty score starts from zero. A gymnast gains points for the 10 hardest elements in his routine. Elements are rated A through F. An A earns the gymnast .1; an F, like junior Kent Caldwell’s quadruple-twisting back flip, earns .6.

The second component to the difficulty score is up to 2.5 points in required elements. A gymnast receives .5 points for each of the five requirements.All together, the best routines will have a difficulty score between 5.5 and 6.5.

The other part of the new scoring system is the execution score, which starts from the traditional 10.0. A gymnast loses points for any mistakes: bent legs, unpointed toes, steps on landings, even completing pirouetting elements too late. Here, look for the good routines to be around 9.0. The best will be even closer to that perfect 10.

Finally, add the two components together. At the beginning of the season, scores above 14 will be acceptable. But to be competitive by the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, there should be no scores below 14.5.

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