WEST POINT, New York — After four hours of competition and six rotations of events, the No. 3 Michigan men’s gymnastics team was leading the NCAA Championship finals by .3 points over Stanford.
And the Wolverines wouldn’t need much more than that on Friday night, as the men’s gymnastics team took home the program’s fourth national title and Michigan’s first team varsity national championship since 2005. In the process, the team avenged last year’s 1.3-point championship loss to Stanford.
Leading the way for Michigan was junior Chris Cameron. He was selected as the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year two weeks ago and won the all-around competition at Big Tens. So winning this year’s NCAA all-around victory came as no surprise to spectators in Christl Arena.
Cameron posted a total score of 90.5, which was good enough to upend the defending champ from Oklahoma — Steve Legendre — by 1.55 points. Senior Mel Santander placed third in the all-around with a score 88.90.
“I usually grasp everything I’ve done right away,” Cameron said. “Not this. This hasn’t hit me yet. “
Michigan coach Kurt Golder said afterward that he thought the experience of coming up just short last season helped the Wolverines.
“Finishing second last year gave us a lot of incentive,” Golder said. “They had a team meeting last year after the NCAA Championships, and they made a commitment to do everything in their power to win it. It’s just great for all of us that it worked out.”
In the team’s losses this year, the pommel horse and the fifth rotation were weak spots for Michigan. These routines were plagued with mistakes and falls. With a score of 58.85 on the pommel horse and a meet-high 59.50 on the rings during the fifth rotation, victory was almost assured for the Wolverines.
Placing first on Thursday allowed Michigan to choose its starting event on Friday. Knowing they would end on the highest-scoring event — vault — allowed the Wolverines to remain confident, despite trailing Stanford the entire meet. Going into the last event, Michigan was down by 3.05 points. After scoring a 62.70 on vault, they looked sure to win.
But it wasn’t over. Due to a broken ring, anybody who fell on their dismount on the rings was given a second chance to compete. Oklahoma was a full three points behind Michigan at this point, so the likelihood of them catching up was slim to none, even with two competitors left. And as it turned out, junior Thomas Kelley was able to compete again, increasing Michigan’s score, and sealing the deal for the national championship.
The top eight scorers in each event Friday were crowned All-Americans and went on to compete for individual event titles on Saturday. Redshirt senior Kent Caldwell was named All-American on the floor exercise and vault and redshirt senior Ryan McCarthy won the only event title for Michigan on high bar.
“I had to focus on making sure that I was aggressive on my high bar set,” McCarthy said. “Everything came into place after that. I caught my release move, did a good dismount, and a clean landing.”
Following McCarthy on the high bar, junior Ian Makowske placed second and Santander tied for third. Santander and junior Thomas Kelley placed second and fifth on the parallel bars. Cameron and McCarthy were also All-American on the parallel bars, tying for seventh.
Though the season is over, some Wolverines are not done yet. Golder and freshman Rohan Sebastian left immediately after that meet to travel to England for the European championships as coach and participant of the Irish national team. Cameron will be traveling to Australia for the Pacific Rim Championships for the U.S. national team.
As the Wolverines hoisted the national championship trophy at the conclusion of the meet, they began to chant: “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.” The voices resonated all through Christl Arena as everybody watched.
“With our last national championship that we won, when we got back on Monday it was the best day of work in my life,” Golder said. “So unfortunately, I’m going to miss that this year.”