It couldn’t have been scripted any better.
With a sellout crowd rocking the cozy confines of Cliff Keen Arena, the No. 1 Michigan men’s gymnastics team pulled off one of the biggest wins in the program’s 50-plus-year history, beating two-time defending national champion Oklahoma by a decisive 3.6-point margin.
“After the first two events, I was thinking to myself, ‘This is going to come down to the wire. It’s going to be within a couple of tenths,’ ” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “(After vault), I started feeling confident, but you gotta close the door strong. You have to put all the nails in the coffin. And between (parallel) bars and high bar, we did that.”
Freshman Mel Santander led off parallel bars with a 9.3, and none of his subsequent teammates posted below a 9.0. Meanwhile, the Sooners notched just one score above 9.0 on the high bar.
The Wolverines sealed the deal with six hit routines on high bar. The standing-room- only crowd of nearly 2,000 people sent up a deafening roar. Laughter mingled with the cheers as senior co-captain Andrew Elkind celebrated his 9.35 routine with a merry, circuitous dance. The noise peaked as senior co-captain Justin Laury and sophomore Joe Catrambone finished the night by tying for the event title with identical 9.45 scores.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Catrambone said. “They said this is the most (Cliff Keen) has ever been packed. You hear everyone cheering, (the team) hitting routines, having the crowd stand up – it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Laury was similarly cheerful after his team’s tremendous performance.
“It feels great,” said Laury, who won the pommel horse competition with a record 9.25 score. “There are no words to describe it. It’s almost overwhelming. . We just proved to (our critics) that we’re still a No. 1 team.”
The No. 3 Sooners swaggered into the arena on Saturday, confident they could knock off the top-ranked Wolverines. The defending national champions had not lost since Jan. 22, 2005.
Facing other No. 1 teams, they had emerged victorious three straight times since 2004.
And Oklahoma’s total score of 218.0 would have been enough for a win against most other teams.
But not against this No. 1 team.
In front of the maize-clad throng, Michigan broke its record for overall team score for the second week in a row, posting a spectacular 221.6 to vanquish its arch rival.
“I think the highlight was just that we keep improving,” sophomore Scott Bregman said. “Last week, we thought, ‘How are we going to top this?’ And then we come out and go four points higher.”
For the third week in a row, the Wolverines jumped out to the lead after one rotation and remained there throughout the meet. Once again, all six competitors on the first event, floor exercise, scored a 9.0 or higher. Bregman set a new team record with his 9.8 score, which won him the Newt Loken award for best performance of the night.
Despite some difficulties on pommel horse and vault, Michigan maintained a slim lead through four rotations. Elkind took home the individual honors on rings with a 9.65.
And after the penultimate event, parallel bars, the Wolverines had the competition in the bag. But they still put on a show for the final apparatus, sending the fans home glowing.
The Wolverines will need all the momentum they can garner from the decisive victory because their next big test is just around the corner. Next Saturday, Michigan will take on No. 2 Penn State in State College – a far more hostile environment than Cliff Keen Arena.
“We should be confident going in there, but it’s always a lot easier at home,” Golder said. “When everybody’s saying, ‘Let’s go, Blue,’ it’s a lot easier than when you’re hearing that Nittany Lion roar. That’ll be the big challenge. I think we can beat them. . We better come away with a victory.”