Junior Phil Goldberg thought he would never again be as nervous as he was before his first Maize and Blue intrasquad.
But when he found himself in the starting rings lineup for Michigan’s first meet of 2008, the Windy City Invitational, the nerves returned with all their old intensity.
“I always thought the most difficult meet I’d ever been to was intrasquad my freshman year,” Goldberg said. “That was the most nervous one in my mind – until Windy City.”
An anxious freshman walk-on in the 2006 season, Goldberg worried that his first performance would determine how the coaches judged him for the rest of his career. He expected at best to redshirt his first season – and at worst, to be cut.
But the coaches must have liked what they saw, because Goldberg became a regular in his first season. He made rings finals at Big Ten Championships, and barely missed the event finals at NCAA Championships.
“He was just about an All-American as a freshman,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “If he could have made it into the finals and finished in the top eight, just beat a couple guys, he would have made it.”
But before his sophomore season, Goldberg partially tore his bicep. And when he tried to come back too quickly, he aggravated the injury, forcing him to redshirt the season.
This year, Goldberg wouldn’t be left out. In December, he competed in this season’s Maize and Blue intrasquad just as he was getting over mononucleosis. To add further obstacles to his comeback path, he got the flu just before the start of the regular season.
The emotions of coming back from extended time off showed in his Windy City routine, which was shaky enough to put his lineup spot in jeopardy.
But Golder had faith in the junior’s ability to bounce back. After removing one big skill, a push to inverted cross, from Goldberg’s routine, the remainder of the set improved dramatically.
“He just needed a beginning,” Golder said. “That’s why I wanted him in the Windy City. The most dramatic change most of the time comes between your first and second meet.”
To Goldberg’s surprise, his name was in the rings lineup for Michigan’s home opener against then-No. 2 Penn State. He didn’t waste his second chance.
With Goldberg going second-to-last, Michigan needed a hit. The Wolverines were down after two rotations and the comeback had to begin with rings. Using five gymnasts instead of the usual six (the top four scores count), they could not afford a mistake.
With the pressure on, Goldberg turned in a performance starkly different from his Windy City debut. His positions were all strong and solid, and when he landed, he’d scored a 15.1 – far better than his 13.65 in Chicago.
With his confidence boosted further by another well-done routine at Oklahoma’s raucous McCasland Field House, and his first-ever event title at Iowa the following week, Goldberg is working on adding difficulty back into his routine.
Once his endurance improves enough to put the push to inverted cross back in, Goldberg’s start value will rocket into the mid-16’s, well within championship range.
And by April, Michigan could have another All-American on its hands.