COLUMBUS — Having shared the Big Ten Championship with Illinois last year, the No. 4 Michigan men’s gymnastics team was looking to take the crown outright this year when it traveled to St. John Arena this past weekend.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, after a disastrous pommel horse routine, plagued with falls, they were defeated Friday night by 1.55 points at the hands of the third-ranked Fighting Illini, finishing second in the conference .
Junior Chris Cameron won the all-around competition and floor exercise, along with the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year award.
Usually, it’s hard to blame one event in particular for a team’s loss, but on Friday that was the case. Michigan lost 2.65 points to Illinois in that event alone. The Fighting Illini had a solid performance overall, but nowhere near perfect.
“Illinois didn’t hit every set,” junior Chris Cameron said. “Our hit percentage was probably higher but they had more championship-level sets and their starting values were higher when it mattered. We didn’t hit pommels, and if we did hit pommels, it would have been a different story.”
On Friday, the Wolverines took part in the team competition, and on Saturday, the individual event competitions were held. The meet consisted of six Big Ten teams, five of them in the top ten in the country: Illinois, Michigan, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 7 Penn State and Iowa. Even with all the tough competition, it was mostly a two-horse race between the Wolverines and Fighting Illini.
When it was all said and done, the third-place Nittany Lions were 10.85 points behind Michigan.
“I think it was clear all year that we were the two teams to beat and that there was a drop,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “My surprise is that I thought the drop would maybe be about five points, and we’re looking at about ten or eleven.”
Other notable performances for the Wolverines were senior Mel Santander’s second-place finish in the all-around competition behind Cameron on Friday and his third-place finish on the parallel bars on Saturday. Santander and junior Thomas Kelley were also named to the All-Big Ten first team.
All year, the Wolverines have struggled with putting together a full, poised competition. Before their last dual meet against Ohio State, when they set an all around school record, they had yet to do so.
They are always trying to finish the last two or three rotations strong, and hope to do so at NCAAs.
“We have to make our fifth rotation our strongest rotation,” Cameron said. “I want the whole of Ann Arbor to see a gymnast walking around and just yell at them ‘fifth rotation guys do great.’ Maybe that’s asking for too much, but I want our guys to approach (the fifth rotation) as a challenge that they can defeat, because they can.”
The Wolverines will travel to West Point, N.Y. for the NCAA Championships in two weeks starting on Thursday, April 15. Being the runner-up last year, Michigan will be looking to bring home a national championship.
“We need to make sure that we’re rested and that we’re mentally strong,” redshirt senior Ryan McCarthy said. “We need to go in and get four solid hit sets on every event.”