The uniforms are the same, but it feels like a whole different team for Michigan men’s gymnastics.
The third-ranked Wolverines began their season on Saturday, with the Maize and Blue Invitational at Cliff Keen Arena.
Since the end of last season, one thing is noticeably different — the amount of youth on the squad, as Michigan welcomes 10 new freshmen onto the team. Throw in a large sophomore contingent and the result is a team that’s high on enthusiasm and talent, but low on experience. Of the 25 athletes on the team, a whopping 21 are underclassmen.
“It helps keep me young,” said senior captain Syque Caesar. “When you have a lot of older guys, it gets kind of hard to continue to stay in shape. It’s a brutal sport, it hurts the body. These guys are really energetic and it makes the atmosphere in the gym very competitive.”
In Saturday’s intrasquad, the team was divided in two and competed against one another in six different events: vault, floor, pommel, rings, parallel bars, and high bar. The teams were divided based on skill level, as Michigan coach Kurt Golden tried to keep them even.
The Maize team included star athletes junior Rohan Sebastian and sophomore Sam Mikulak, and the Blue featured Caesar and freshman Adrian de los Angeles. Caesar won first place in both the floor exercise and the parallel bars and also tied for first on the vault with Mikulak, who won the rings. Sophomore Mike Myler placed first on the pommel horse and de los Angeles ranked first on the high bar. In the final score, the Blue team finished with 320.5 points with the Maize team trailing with 316.45.
In the intrasquad, the inexperienced Wolverines displayed the energy that could be an asset for the team going into this season.
“I think a lot of these guys coming in have a certain energy within them that maybe we’d lost last year,” Sebastian said. “We had lost a little bit of the intensity, and this young spirit in the gym, firing us all up, has really pushed us to become better.”
That spirit was evident in Cliff Keen Arena during the intrasquad event. Though they compete individually, the Wolverines insist on thinking like a team at all times.
“This sport is very individual but this particular team is very team-oriented,” Caesar said. “When you’re on an event it doesn’t feel like it’s just you. It feels like your score, your performance, affects the next guy and the guy before you. There’s a lot more pressure.”
De los Angeles said that this amount of team support is different from the more individualized nature of high school gymnastics. Once these athletes reach the college and elite level, he said, the amount of pressure greatly increases.
“Every time I think about winning, everything just starts going up in my mind,” de los Angeles said. “So starting around my junior year in high school, I kind of figured out a trick to competing. Instead of thinking about winning, I would just try to think about giving people a good show, and that way I wouldn’t be stressed. And it’s worked so far.”
Though the numbers didn’t matter in Saturday’s event, “there were quite a few mistakes,” according to Golder.
“We increased the difficulty so much in these first couple (training) months,” Golder said. “If they had just done their easier routines that they did last year in competition, it probably would have gone a lot smoother for them.
“I think we’re probably going to start out kind of slow, but by the end of the year we’ll be pretty darn good.”
The athletes also reflected Golder’s optimistic sentiments.
“I wouldn’t say we’re prepared yet (for the upcoming meets), but we’re definitely getting there,” de los Angeles said. “It’s going to be a good year.”