Almost exactly one year ago, the Wolverines shocked the college gymnastics world, upsetting powerhouse Oklahoma in Ann Arbor.
Tomorrow, the second-ranked Wolverines will face the Sooners again. But this time, it will be in enemy territory.
“It should be an exciting showdown, hopefully as exciting as it was last year,” sophomore Torrance Laury said. “It was the most memorable competition that I’ve competed in.”
Michigan’s roster is one of the largest and deepest in the country, boasting 24 gymnasts (of whom 15 can travel). But No. 5 Oklahoma has just 13, and in its first meet of the season, junior Garrett Carr tore a pectoral muscle. This latest in a litany of injuries to hit the elite squad – the Sooners have had more than 15 surgeries in the past 15 months – brings the active roster to 12, the maximum number of gymnasts that can compete in a given meet.
Although most teams use 12 gymnasts in each meet, Oklahoma has been able to succeed using 11 or fewer gymnasts in each of its first two competitions. Any future injury, however, could be a severe blow.
Oklahoma’s small but talented roster boasts two of the nation’s top all-arounders: senior co-captains Jonathan Horton and Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons. Horton is a member of the U. S. Senior National Team and will likely compete in the Beijing Olympics this summer, while Abdullah-Simmons is the defending NCAA All-Around champion.
Horton did not compete in the Sooners’ first two meets but, along with his co-captain, is expected to join the lineup for four or five events on Saturday. Injury doubts surround the duo – both seniors are still recovering from knee problems.
After two straight weekends of pummeling cellar-dwellers Nebraska and Air Force, the Sooners crave a real challenge.
“The motivation helps bring the best gymnast out in everybody,” Oklahoma junior Russell Czeschin said. “We’re just excited to actually have a team that should give us more of a run for our money than what we’ve been competing against the past couple weeks.”
They’re determined not to let Michigan claim victory in their house, either.
To lose in Ann Arbor is one thing, but to lose in Norman, where the Sooners have lost just once since 2004, would be entirely different.
“It pushes both of our teams to the best that we can be,” Czeschin said. “We definitely don’t want to be shown up in our home court, on our turf.”
Oklahoma’s McCasland Field House will be packed Saturday night with its usual complement of loud, rowdy fans – and then some. Saturday is Cleveland Elementary Night, when 350 kids, teachers and parents from a local elementary school will descend on the field house to cheer on their tutors: the Oklahoma gymnasts.
After beating the defending national champs last weekend the Wolverines’ confidence is high. And with improvements on its two weakest events from last Saturday – floor and pommel horse – Michigan could score significantly higher than its already-impressive 356.95 mark against Penn State.
“We need to be assertive and sure of ourselves that we can go against one of the top teams in the country,” Laury said. “So this past weekend was a really good booster for us.”