MINNEAPOLIS – It was ugly.
It was disappointing.
But it was enough.
By the skin of its teeth, the undefeated Michigan men’s gymnastics team pulled off a victory against No. 7 Minnesota, 209.8-209.3. The score was Michigan’s lowest point total of the season, and despite the win, the subpar performance rankled in the Wolverines’ minds.
“It’s hard to say that we feel really good about this win,” sophomore Jamie Thompson said. “It’s kind of a love-hate thing – we’re glad we won, but in reality, back there in our little huddle, in our hearts we didn’t win this meet. We could have done so much better.”
On paper, the Gophers didn’t stand a chance against the top-ranked Wolverines. But Michigan, without the services of senior co-captain Justin Laury, was ripe for an upset.
The Wolverines dug themselves an early hole by scoring a meager 32.00 overall on the pommel horse, their first event of the night.
Undeterred, Michigan chanted, “Penn State! Penn State!” – recalling its dramatic comeback win two weeks ago in State College.
Led by sophomore Kent Caldwell’s meet-topping 9.7 set, Michigan cut into the Gopher lead with an impressive floor showing. The Wolverines ran into more problems on vault, but Thompson and fellow sophomore Scott Bregman salvaged the event.
Thompson, who hadn’t competed since the Jan. 20 Iowa meet, executed a solid Kaz full for an 8.7, while Bregman stuck his new double full for the first time ever in competition to post an event-winning 8.95 score.
Michigan then moved into the lead with a strong rings rotation. Five of the six Wolverines posted scores above 9.0. Sophomore Ralph Rosso anchored the event with a clutch set, notching the best rings score of the night (9.6) just minutes after landing on his knees on vault.
“I felt like I let the team down on vault, and I was extremely disappointed in myself,” Rosso said. “Pretty much I harnessed the energy, and I did rings for my teammates.”
But an uncharacteristically poor showing on high bar put Michigan behind again. The Wolverines’ struggles were compounded by suspect judging – three of the four judges working the meet were former Minnesota gymnasts, one of whom still works out with the team.
Once again, like at Penn State, the meet came down to the final event: high bar for the Gophers, parallel bars for the Wolverines.
But this time, the final outcome was much less apparent by the end of the rotation.
“We just kind of started out flat,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “We stayed that way all evening. . But the one thing they didn’t do was give up. They fought like hell at the end. When we were on the last event, there was a lot of intensity. I’m proud of them for never giving up.”
The rollicking home crowd, which had been chanting, singing along to a trumpeter’s rendition of Minnesota Rouser and roaring for the Gophers all night, was stunned into silence by the announcement of the final score.
Even the Michigan gymnasts weren’t completely certain of their victory.
“I thought we had won, because I saw them over on high bar struggling and falling,” Bregman said. “Just like what happened at Penn State, we were over here rocking out on (parallel bars) and they couldn’t live up to that pressure. I thought we had it; I wasn’t sure.”
The meet was a wake-up call for the Wolverines, who will travel to California next weekend to compete in the Pacific Coast Classic to take on several of the country’s best teams.
And another performance like this one won’t cut it against squads like No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 6 Stanford.
“We are not unbeatable, we’re going to have to remember that,” Thompson said. “The minute you think we can walk through the season and plow over everybody, that’s when somebody comes up from behind you and takes you out. It was definitely a reality check, but a good one. We needed it.”