It began slowly in the back of the team bus, a few voices joining in with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.” Riding back from a defeat at Illinois on March 9, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team suddenly decided it was time to sing.
Within minutes, a team-wide karaoke party was in full swing.
For senior Dan Rais, the moment was “euphoric.”
“At first, I didn’t think anything of it,” Rais said. “But after we stopped for a little bit, it was so different. It felt like it was just a different team. . It was like having all my best friends, and doing what we love to do.”
And for him, it meant just a little more.
This is Rais’s last season, and there won’t be too many more moments like that one.
“I don’t think it’s set in yet,” Rais said. “I’ve been sitting here saying, ‘Yeah, I’m about done,’ but it doesn’t feel like I’m going to be done with gymnastics.”
Though Rais will finish with gymnastics this year, he likely won’t be done competing for Michigan. Athletes can have a fifth year of eligibility if they switch sports, and the Livonia native plans to walk onto the men’s swimming and diving team. Rais lettered in diving all four years of high school and eventually captained the team. Michigan currently has just two male divers, juniors Charlie Kennedy and Kyle Schroeder.
In first home meet this season, Rais provided a crucial boost for Michigan during the high bar rotation, during which the Wolverines wrested victory away from defending national champion Penn State. Rais said it was one of the best high bar routines of his life, earning a 14.80.
“He got up after a rocky set from somebody else and really rocked his set,” junior Jamie Thompson said. “He lifted everybody, saying, ‘We can still do this, we have to hit.’ “
Since then, thanks in part to a nagging neck problem that affects his right arm, Rais has had difficulty competing. It’s particularly frustrating as he tries to make his final season count.
“There’s times when I know I should have worked harder and it would have helped, not only me but the team,” Rais said. “That’s what I’ve been trying to do this year, work harder than I have been.”
That work paid off against Ohio State on Senior Night, when Rais turned in his best overall performance of the year. He capped the floor rotation with a 15.05 set. On vault, an event that’s plagued him in recent weeks, he earned a 15.70, good for second place overall.
And on high bar, Rais bested even his Penn State performance. His mother, Cathy, held her breath as Rais willed himself to a smooth set culminating in a stuck double front over the bar. After screaming in triumph, Rais was picked up in a bear hug by senior co-captain Paul Woodward. When his feet touched the ground, senior co-captain Arren Yoshimura wrapped him in another embrace.
It was a near-perfect finish to Rais’s career at Cliff Keen Arena.
Even though he’ll remain in Ann Arbor, Rais’s absence will leave a hole in the gym, especially for Woodward. Of the team’s three seniors, Woodward is the only one returning for a fifth year.
“If Dan and (senior) Arren (Yoshimura) both leave and it’s just me here, I’ll definitely feel old,” Woodward said. “There’s definitely a bond that me, Dan and Arren have that I probably don’t have with the rest of the team.”