The Buckeyes thought they had it.
The No. 7 Ohio State men’s gymnastics team had beaten the Wolverines three years running, and looked to be clawing its way to a comeback at Cliff Keen Arena on Saturday night.
But the fifth-ranked Wolverines knew the meet was theirs.
They didn’t panic. Not after two rough routines to lead off floor exercise. Not after Ohio State took the lead after three events. Not when the first five Michigan parallel-bars sets all had major mistakes.
And on Senior Night, the Wolverines finally bested Ohio State head-to-head for the first time since 2004, winning 359.20-356.25.
“It feels like we can’t lose,” senior Dan Rais said. “It feels absolutely amazing. . We can do anything now.”
Having received an impassioned speech from Professor John Bacon on Friday about the history of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, the gymnasts were more fired up than normal for their big meet.
“At the time, we were ready to compete then and there,” junior Joe Catrambone said. “We stayed really positive today. I think this is the most positive we’ve ever been, as a group.”
The Wolverines needed the positive attitude from the start. Two rough routines led off the opening rotation, floor exercise, but freshman Thomas Kelley put the Wolverines back on track with a smooth hit.
Junior Jamie Thompson – in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 2 – delivered a near-flawless floor set for a career-high 15.65. It was a perfect setup for junior Kent Caldwell, who performed his new, upgraded routine in competition for the first time.
“I was feeling good, confident that I’d be able to hit it, but I was so proud of (Thompson) after that set,” said Caldwell, who won the Newt Loken award for his meet-topping, career-high 15.7 set. “I think Jamie took that set from being just a hit to having the level of polish I was able to give it.”
The Wolverines’ trend of late-meet struggles surfaced dramatically during the parallel-bars rotation – the same event that led to a close defeat to top-ranked Stanford on March 2.
But in what Michigan coach Kurt Golder called his top performance of the night, Catrambone knocked out his set in the anchor slot. With five subpar routines ahead of him, Catrambone posted a career-high 15.10 score, good for second overall.
Michigan then moved to high bar, the last rotation. Rais and senior co-captain Arren Yoshimura prepared for their final home performances. Rais, for one, was decidedly ticked off, feeling that the team had opened the door for the Buckeyes during parallel bars.
After a clean opening routine from junior Ryan McCarthy, Rais swung onto the bar. He swept through the routine, stuck his dismount and yelled with joy. It was his third hit set of the night.
His score of 15.00 was good enough for second place, bested only by Catrambone’s 15.40. Yoshimura rounded out Michigan’s high bar sweep, placing third and offering a salute to the roaring crowd as he left the mat for the final time.
“I feel like this was the best way for them to end at Cliff Keen,” junior Jamie Thompson said. “They both hit the last event they did and were so happy with how everybody did.”
Even with a meet that left significant room for improvement, Michigan proved itself superior to its archrival, outscoring Ohio State on four of the six events and collecting three individual titles.
“I knew we could have done it all along,” Caldwell said. “I never told anyone this, but I expected to win. . It’s always good to go out with a bang – and with a win.”