Last year, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team finished in
fourth place behind Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa at the Big Ten
Championships. This season, the Wolverines have already defeated
both Penn State and Ohio State in hard-fought matches at home. The
question is: Can they do it again?

Beth Dykstra
Freshman Andrew Elkind and the Wolverines are getting ready for Big Tens. (TONY DING/Daily)

“We know we can (beat Penn State and Ohio State)
again,” freshman Andrew Elkind said. “We’ve been
up and down a little bit, but when we face top teams, we step it up
to their level and compete above them.”

The challenge, though, is that when the Wolverines travel to the
Big Ten Championships this weekend in Champaign, they will have to
face the toughest team in the conference. Illinois, a team that
Michigan has not competed against in the regular season, is ranked
No. 1 in the nation and could be a fierce competitor.

“Illinois has been posting some high scores, so
that’s a little bit intimidating going in there,”
junior Brian Berends said. “But in order for us to do well,
we can’t really think about what they’ve been doing, we
just need to concentrate on what we’ve got to do to stay
right there with them.”

The 2004 season has had good points as well as bad. There have
been many injuries and inconsistencies, record performances and
close victories. Michigan coach Kurt Golder is proud of his
team’s progress, and knows that not being at full strength
due to injuries has hurt the team’s score at times.

“A big factor is that we held Justin Laury out of three
events (last weekend),” Golder said. “So we can
definitely strengthen our line up a little bit. We weren’t
able to increase Andre Hernandez’s difficulty, either, due to
his knee problem. But if we can get these guys back at full
strength, they will be our secret weapons.”

The Wolverines finished the regular season with a respectable
8-5 (6-3 Big Ten) record, and did so without any seniors on the
team. When it comes to big tournaments such as the Big Tens and
NCAAs, experience is helpful. But assistant coach and former
Michigan gymnast Louis Levine believes that it’s the
team’s leadership that will put them on top.

“The year that we won the National Championship (in 1999),
we had one senior,” Levine said. “It doesn’t
matter how old you are, it depends how good your leaders are. And I
think our leadership is fine.

“Chris Gatti’s been here for four years, so
he’s a senior for all intents and purposes. And even our
juniors have a lot of experience. Some of these guys have even been
in USA Championships, so they know about competition.”

The Wolverines will look to the next three weeks of Big Tens and
NCAAs as the time to show what they’ve worked for all

“I think both competitions mean a lot,” Levine said.
“It’s kind of a stepping stone, one into the next.
These three weeks are what we train for all year.”

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