If Terrelle Pryor wanted to see a tight competition ending in a Michigan victory, he should have been at Cliff Keen Arena Saturday night.
Instead of watching the basketball team lose to Iowa, he would have seen the Michigan men’s gymnastics team pull off a dramatic come-from-behind upset of defending national champion Penn State. For the second year in a row, the Wolverines beat the second-ranked Nittany Lions, 356.95-354.30.
“I think we served notice on the NCAA gymnastics world that we’ll be a force to be reckoned with,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said.
Last weekend, Penn State posted an astronomical 358.50 while Michigan finished third at the Windy City Invitational. This weekend, Michigan’s team score was tops in the nation.
“Our house!” chanted the Michigan gymnasts before the sixth and final event, high bar. At Penn State’s Rec Hall last season, Michigan pulled off a last-minute win – and the gymnasts, ahead by about a point, weren’t about to let Penn State repay the favor. “Our house!”
And on high bar, Michigan secured the upset. Senior Dan Rais turned in one of the best routines of his life after a stress-filled week when he worried about his chances of even making the lineup.
“Going into this meet, I felt like I had to prove myself,” said Rais, who was left off the travel squad to Chicago. “It felt great after high bar. . I’ve never felt that feeling. I was euphoric – it was amazing.”
Junior Joe Catrambone clinched the comeback with one of his own. A hit high-bar set would seal the win for Michigan, but the junior had struggled with competition routines for months.
But on Saturday night, he swept through the event with the ease and power of his practice sets, clapping triumphantly as he finished and the crowd erupted. Catrambone’s 15.4 was the best high bar score of the night.
Catrambone thought Michigan’s last surge built on senior co-captain Arren Yoshimura’s strong parallel-bars set.
“Everyone kept building on that and raising the scores up,” Catrambone said. “Then we got to high bar and we just let it all out. They were the best high bar routines we’ve ever done.”
At the halfway point of the showdown between the Big Ten powers, heading into vault, Penn State had taken a lead of more than three points. But on vault, Michigan began to roll.
The last time junior Scott Bregman, the vault squad’s leadoff man, performed at Cliff Keen, he sustained an injury that sidelined him for eight months. On Saturday night, he performed a full twisting vault perfectly, sticking the landing. His teammates built on his performance, cutting Penn State’s lead to a minuscule .75 points.
“It feels so good to get in a good vault in Keen,” said Bregman, who normally does a harder double-twisting vault. “I’ve got some bad memories here, some demons. I feel like I could have done the double full.”
Yoshimura lifted both the team and crowd with a solid 14.5 parallel-bars routine after the previous two gymnasts missed theirs to start the fifth rotation. Catrambone, in the event lineup for the first time since last March, turned in a near-flawless set. By the time freshman Chris Cameron capped the rotation with a score of 15.15, both fans and team were roaring, sensing the upcoming victory.
Despite early problems on floor and horse, Michigan allowed only positive momentum to snowball. And unlike in Chicago, the team kept the energy in the arena steady throughout the night, with sophomore Evan Heiter often starting responsive cheers with the fans.
“We definitely showed a lot of teams out there that we can contend for the title this year,” Catrambone said. “We’re not just a home team-we’re going to bring this on the road with us next week in Oklahoma.”