For the Michigan men’s gymnastics team, the weekend in Columbus for the Big Ten Championships did not meet expectations, but the Wolverines walked away with two important discoveries.

First, outstanding freshmen performances that were comparable with the best of the Big Ten hinted the development of a gymnastics powerhouse in the near future. At second, the team found a sense of collective motivation, which they will need in preparation for the upcoming NCAA Championships in two weeks.

The sixth-ranked Wolverines finished in fourth place out of six teams with a score of 215.325. Penn State won its first Big Ten title ever with a score of 220.550. Ohio State (218.600) and Iowa (215.600) followed in second and third place, while Minnesota and Illinois took fifth and sixth place, scoring 214.300 and 211.850, respectively.

“I hoped we could have finished in the top three,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “We got off to a good start on high bar, but we are not a strong floor team. We missed two golden opportunities on pommel horse, and we tied Penn State for first place on the rings.”

It was inconsistency in all the events that cost the Wolverines third place by less than three tenths of a point; but then again, that has been the story all season. With a team that is full of talent, injuries have altered the makeup of the lineup numerous times throughout the season, resulting in unpredictable scoring patterns.

As soon as all aspects of the team seem to be coming together and a rainbow of hope appears in the distance, there is someone else taken out of the lineup, once again dismantling stability.

But one thing that has remained consistent during the course of the tumultuous season has been confidence. No one on the team ever doubts that he is better than the numbers tell. It is inevitable that things will fall in place, and once the Wolverines meet the potential that Golder has repeatedly talked about all year, they are certain that no one will see Michigan coming for them.

Individual performances of freshmen Andrew Digiore and Justin Laury on Friday and Saturday are evidence of a championship-caliber team on the verge of breaking out. Laury finished third in the all-around competition, and was crowned Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

“I felt consistent and focused,” Laury said. “I went out there and did exactly what I did in practice.”

Laury, who ruptured his Achilles tendon over the summer, put together a solid freshman year that earned him a spot on the all-conference team.

“I don’t know exactly what the (all-Big Ten team) is about,” Laury said. “It was unexpected and an added bonus.”

Digiore also did enough to impress the judges, as he won first place on the vault in both the preliminary competition and the finals. He was also chosen to represent Michigan on the all-conference team.

“Drew worked hard and definitely deserved to win,” Laury said.

Golder agreed after pointing out that Digiore had unveiled the two-and-a-half twist vault that he used in competition just two weeks before at the Wolverines’ final regular season meet at Ohio State. Although he was not able to land the vault the first time he performed it in competition, he dominated the Big Ten Championships with a score of 9.500.

“The year started out shaky, but I tweaked a few techniques and added an extra half twist (to the vault),” Digiore said. “The whole year kind of built up to that one moment. I went to the meet thinking I could win, and I’m really excited about how things went.”

For both Laury and Digiore, the excitement of two nights of intense competition culminated with the support and enthusiasm of family and friends that were present at the competition.

“It was nice to compete on the road and feel like you’re at home,” Laury said.

Laury has a lot of family living in the Ohio area, and many Michigan fans were able to attend the event given its close proximity to Ann Arbor.

“Family and friends were loud and excited when our names were called up for the conference team,” Digiore added.

The Wolverines also showed strong performances on the still rings, on which they sent three gymnasts to the individual event finals. Conan Parzuchowski led Michigan with a score of 9.625, which was more than enough to capture second place behind Penn State’s Kevin Tan (9.725). Michigan’s Scott Vetere took third place on the event, and Laury finished seventh.

Golder is confident that the results of the Big Ten Championships will only motivate Michigan to work harder in order to succeed at the NCAA Championships.

“When we add Eddie Umphrey and Jeff Corrigan back into the lineup we will have stronger team,” Golder said. “The guys who competed at the Big Tens have shown that they are resilient and can do a good job. Hopefully everything will fall into place once we put all these things together.”

Umphrey had been out eight weeks after breaking his hand on a parallel bars routine earlier in the season, and Corrigan was suspended from competition for two meets for disciplinary purposes. Golder believes that its presence in the lineup will help fortify the team as it sets out to finish within the top three spots at the NCAA Championships in two weeks.

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