OAKLAND, Calif. – For one of the first times in recent memory, the No. 6 Michigan men’s gymnastics team was eerily silent.
Poised after five events to secure third place in the Pacific Coast Classic, the Wolverines were defeated by their old enemy, the pommel horse. Just two of their routines received scores in the eight-point range, and Michigan placed fourth in the final standings, behind No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Stanford and No. 8 California.
Michigan coach Kurt Golder was not content with his team’s performance.
“Maybe fourth is okay, but I’m not satisfied with our performance,” Golder said. “We could be 20th, and if we performed up to our (potential), I would be satisfied. But a fourth-place finish. . It’s not the place, it’s how we perform.”
The Wolverines looked shakier than normal for most of the night, with far more missed dismounts than usual. Through four rotations, Michigan received just four scores above 9.0. But after the bye rotation following the high bar, Michigan came out rejuvenated and ready to score big.
“We just went back to the training room back there where nobody else was and thought to ourselves, ‘Let’s see how good we can do on these next two events,’ ” senior Luke Bottke said. “I pulled (sophomore) Dan (Rais) aside and said, ‘With our start values, we can win floor.’ . We decided we’d had a few mess-ups, but we were ready to turn it around and see what we could do on the last two events – try and go 12-for-12 and see where that put us.”
One of the best floor exercise teams in the country, Michigan got just one score below a nine. The bench area had been loud all night, but the noise reached new heights as gymnast after gymnast hit every skill in his routine. Freshman Scott Bregman led off the event with a 9.3, and his teammates followed with solid routines of their own. Bottke earned the highest score (9.35), and Michigan notched the highest team score of the night on the floor (37.05).
But, the flood of momentum dissipated once the team got to the pommel horse. Freshman Phil Goldberg (8.10) started Michigan off with a clean, solid routine, but the event went downhill from there.
“I just think it’s a totally different team when we get to pommel horse than when we’re on floor,” freshman Joe Catrambone said. “On floor, we’re all energetic, guys are hitting routines. On pommel horse, everyone is a little bit nervous, a little tentative when they get up there, and it shows.”
The Wolverines will need to improve their hit percentage on the pommel horse if they hope to realize their dreams of a national title. At the Big Ten championships at the end of March, they will again finish the competition on that event. Michigan must claim a top-six ranking in order to move on to the NCAA Championships.
“I don’t think it really matters where (in a competition the pommel horse) is,” Golder said. “It’s the guys’ frame of mind, their level of confidence. It gets hard when you fall off. It’s easy to say, ‘Be confident, be aggressive.’ It’s easy to say that, but it’s hard to be confident.”
The team will have a chance to work out the kinks in an opportunity meet at Stanford next Saturday. Michigan’s next home meet will be Feb. 11 against No. 2 Ohio State