For the No. 3 Michigan men’s gymnastics team, the schedule doesn’t get much more intimidating than it is in the next three weeks.
On Saturday Michigan will face No. 2 Oklahoma, followed by No. 4 Stanford and top-ranked Illinois the weekend after. In 2007, the Wolverines were in a similiar position, yet were unable to sustain success late in the season, in part due to injuries.
“We’re just going to have to be on top of our game and stay healthy,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “We do have enough depth, so if we do experience sickness or injury, we should still be able to overcome anybody. The teams are so close that when you’re in the top three or four teams anyone could win it. I think we have a little advantage because of our depth, but that remains to be seen.”
That depth that was evident last weekend. With top athletes such as juniors Chris Cameron and Thomas Kelley resting after their two-day performance in the Winter Cup Invitational, the Wolverines still beat the No. 11 University of Illinois at Chicago.
Barely graduating any seniors after last season’s NCAA runner-up finish, Michigan has an arsenal of battle-tested veterans on its side.
“I think experience does play a huge role in winning meets,” Cameron said. “The best thing about this team is that it’s so fresh. We’re really coming to realize the level of gymnastics that we’re doing is more than it was back in ’07, ’08, and even last year. That’s why we’re so confident in winning. We’re using that past experience to make us way better right now.”
Cameron is currently nursing a hand injury, which will not hinder him from competition, but he will compete in different events from his usual slate. After his performance at the Winter Cup, he is currently the second-ranked gymnast in the nation.
Even with several talented athletes accustomed to the national stage, the Wolverines are not flawless.
“We still have to improve,” Golder said. “We’re not good enough right now to win a championship, but were certainly pointed in that direction and we can be good enough. We’re not a good enough team where we can just coast from this point on.”
Two years ago, Oklahoma visited Michigan at about the same time in the season, in an almost identical position as well. In front of 1,760 fans, the Wolverines won by a marginal three points.
“It was the most fun meet I’ve ever competed in,” redshirt senior Kent Caldwell said. “We sold out Cliff Keen and there was really good energy there. Hopefully, all those things will come together again for a really good meet.”
Along the stretch, not only will the Wolverines’ experience come in handy, but also the camaraderie they have developed.
“We know what to expect and how to encourage one another,” Cameron said. “We also know little ticks that people have so we avoid those. It makes everything really smooth. There’s a trust there that you develop with teammates over time.”