In a one-week span, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team transformed from an also-ran into a major contender.

The sixth-ranked Wolverines gave top-ranked Stanford all it could handle yesterday but lost in a nailbiter, 361.30-361.15. Michigan’s team total was its highest of the season, and the Sunday matinee performance was the closest the Wolverines have come to a perfect meet.

Michigan’s previous meet, the disappointing Pacific Coast Classic, receded into fuzzy memory as the Wolverines strung together hit after hit. Michigan bested the Cardinal on three of the six events, including pommel horse – a Stanford strength and historic Michigan weakness.

“We feel awesome right now,” said freshman Thomas Kelley, who bounced back from last weekend with hit sets on four of his five events. “Now we have confidence going into Big Tens and NCAAs.”

The Cardinal competed without seniors David Sender and Sho Nakamori, both members of the U. S. Senior National Team. But Stanford has proven throughout the season that it can win big without them in the lineup.

Even with a smaller-than-normal crowd thanks to Spring Break, the Michigan gymnasts and their fans electrified Cliff Keen Arena all afternoon. The energy exploded with the final routine of the day, as junior Joe Catrambone turned in a Newt Loken award-winning performance on high bar. The award is given at each home meet for the best routine of the night.

To cap his set, Catrambone stuck his triple backflip dismount. His teammates had been inching further and further onto the competition floor after every hit. As Catrambone landed, he pumped his fists and disappeared in a sea of celebrating gymnasts.

“That was my favorite part of the meet,” assistant coach Derek Croad said. “It’s always that last routine.”

Michigan’s lone trouble spot was parallel bars. Had the Wolverines knocked out the rotation as they did on the previous four events, they might have won the meet.

But two falls and multiple mistakes brought Michigan’s scores down. Only freshman Chris Cameron’s stellar anchor set (15.4) broke into the 15 range. In the final rotation, Stanford’s parallel-bars squad scored just high enough to edge into the lead.

Despite the loss, the Wolverines showed they could hang with the nation’s top team, recording hits in about three-quarters of their routines.

On rings, five of the six gymnasts stuck their dismounts, and junior Phil Goldberg got the top score (15.4). And after Stanford posted a huge vault total, Michigan responded with one of its own, a brilliant 63.3. Sophomore David Chan won the event with a 16.0 score and Michigan counted nothing lower than a 15.65.

Even with the loss, the gymnasts’ pleasure in their performance was obvious following the meet.

“It was definitely good to see that our team really got after it this meet, especially after hitting the low point at Pacific Coast,” Catrambone said. “Overall, it was great to be part of this team today.”

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