It’s hard to improve after being the first ever freshman to win the all-around national title in gymnastics, but sophomore Sam Mikulak wants to try.

After leading Michigan to a 5th-place finish at last year’s NCAA Tournament, Mikulak and the Wolverines will begin their season ranked second in the preseason coach’s poll and third in the Gyminfo national poll. Mikulak will hopefully lead the way to a team title.

“It’s the beginning of the year so I’m kind of just taking things slow,” Mikulak said. “Everything will come together as time goes on.”

In Michigan’s first preseason event, the team took part in its annual Maize and Blue Intrasquad event on Saturday. Four-time All-American Mikulak still shined, despite performing simpler routines than usual.

“It started off pretty well but I had a few falls,” Mikulak said. “I didn’t really get the difficulty, but it was the first meet so I said why not just keep it simple.”

And in his case simple is not bad.

Mikulak finished 3rd overall in the event. He earned the still rings title with a score of 14.35 and shared the vault title with senior Syque Caesar with a 14.70.

“Vault is a pretty good event for me,” Mikulak said. “(On Saturday) it was my strongest event and the plan is to work off of that and get back to last season’s success.”

After ending last season with the Michigan Athlete of the Year award, Mikulak’s impressive freshman year hit a snag over the summer when he sustained ankle injuries at the Puerto Rico Cup. Despite the injury, he was still selected to be a member of the United States Senior National Team.

Now he enters the season fully recovered.

“After (taking) a little time off I came back, started doing rehab, got back in the swing of things (and) now I’m here,” Mikulak said. “It is pretty much all healed up, but every once in a while it will act up again. It should be good soon and I’ll be onto bigger sets.”

Since completing his rehab, Mikulak hopes he can still compete at the high level he is accustomed to.

“I’m pretty confident with it all and I think the more I do the better I will be,” Mikulak said. “It should be a good season to look forward to.”

Mikulak isn’t just thinking about the start of Michigan’s season — in January, he’ll head to the 2012 Olympics test event in London.

“I’m just counting down the days until I go,” Mikulak said.

After he returns from Europe, the Wolverines’ regular season will be in full swing, and Mikulak wants to improve on last year’s impressive season.

“Winning NCAAs as a freshman was an accolade that I never actually thought I’d get,” Mikulak said. “But (we) are missing a team title. I’m really pushing for the team.”

With four underclassmen, Michigan looks to earn a team title now, and for years to come.

“The team looks really good this year and all our freshmen are stepping up,” Mikulak said. “I think we’ll be able to make it and hopefully we can get some NCAA titles.”

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