The combination of facing the No. 3 team in the country, missing two of its best gymnasts and dealing with a new scoring system led to the Michigan men’s gymnastic team’s first loss of the season.
Playing host to Oklahoma, No. 2 Michigan narrowly lost, 432.10-431.25. Despite losing, the Wolverines (9-1) took home four individual event titles and won two team events.
“We were holding some of our top guys out so we could get them healthy,” said Michigan coach Kurt Golder. “So that provided a real good challenge for the rest of the team.”
Fifth-year senior Syque Caesar and sophomore Adrian de los Angeles didn’t compete due to injuries sustained earlier in the week. These injuries, however, aren’t expected to sideline them for long as they’re expected to compete next weekend.
Another challenge for the Wolverines was the use of the “five-up, five-count” scoring system, which was recently implemented. In this system, only five gymnasts compete in each event, with each score counting. In the previous system, six gymnasts would compete in each event with only the top five scores being kept.
“It puts us under a little more pressure to hit our sets,” said sophomore Stacey Ervin. “We could have done a little better, but our team has to adjust just like every other team in the country.”
In addition to putting pressure on gymnasts, the new system can create a situation where one poor routine can change the entire complexion of the meet.
“In the early part of the season, you can make a mistake and it doesn’t really hurt you,” Golder said. “We kind of wanted to try it and see how it works this year where everything counts.”
Another side effect of this rule change is that if a gymnast gets hurt mid-routine, a substitute can take his place in exchange for a small deduction. This scenario happened to Michigan on parallel bars, when seconds into his routine junior Sam Mikulak went down with an apparent hand injury and was unable to finish his routine.
Under the old rules, Mikulak’s routine would’ve been thrown out and no one would have taken his place. However, under the new system where every score counts, Mikulak’s spot needed to be filled by an alternative, which happened to be Ervin. Without practicing in the warm-up period, Ervin scored a 13.60, impressive given the circumstances and the deduction.
“He stepped up and he did a great job,” Golder said. “I thought he was fantastic.”
In addition to this performance, Ervin finished first in the floor exercise with a score of 16.00. Because of this performance, as well as his efforts in filling in for Mikulak, Ervin won the Newt Loken Award, given to the gymnasts with the most outstanding performance of the night.
Even in the losing effort, the Wolverines got solid performances from junior Matt Freeman and sophomore Michael Strathern. Freeman finished first on still rings while Strathern finished first on parallel bars and vault.
Michigan will return to action Saturday when it takes on No. 1 Penn State. In addition to playing the top-ranked Nittany Lions, the Wolverines will be competing at Rec Hall in State College, the site where the upcoming National Championship will be held.