CHAMPAIGN — The expression on the faces of the Michigan
men’s gymnastics team said it all. In less than two hours, as
the Wolverines went from elated to dejected — their facial
expressions gradually shifted to fit the mood.

The Wolverines placed fifth this weekend at the NCAA
Championships. The finish was higher than their No. 7 seed, but
lower than Michigan coach Kurt Golder’s preseason hope of a
team that “could shock the gymnastics world.” Golder
said that the team wasn’t unhappy, but exhausted from a
weekend’s work.

“Right when the competition ended, they were pretty darn
happy,” Golder said. “They felt like they did a good
job, and I do too. We’re just not quite that good. We had to
have everything go perfect, and we didn’t.”

The night began with an ominous opening routine from sophomore
Gerry Signorelli on vault. Signorelli started his round off a step
too early and missed the vault completely.

“I have never seen him do anything even close to that,
even in practice, and we do a lot of numbers,” sophomore Luke
Bottke said. “I just knew that I had to get things going in
the right direction. We’re a strong vault team, so I thought
that if I could hit like I had been training, we could get things
turned around.”

The mistake was a bad sign of things to come, but it
didn’t affect the Wolverines score on the vault. Bottke hit
his vault with a score of 9.425, and got Michigan started in a
better direction. After Bottke’s vault, the team was on its
feet, yelling and screaming for each competitor. The Wolverines
finished the rotation with a team vault score of 37.750, which was
not only the best team vault score at the NCAAs, but was also good
enough to break Michigan’s school record.

The Wolverines continued with a strong showing on the parallel
bars, which had been a weak event for the team all year long. But
their third rotation, the high bar, was somewhat disappointing.
Michigan scored a 37.125, but had a couple of missed routines and
was not as good as it had been in the past. The intensity gained
from the vault began to fade, and the bye that they had next round
didn’t help.

“(Being intense) is much easier to do in the beginning of
the meet than the end,” Golder said. “They should be
able to sustain it, but they are getting a little bit tired and if
things are going, it’s hard to get up.”

Michigan finished off the last three rotations looking flat, but
it was still able to post a team-high score of 220.525. The coaches
and gymnasts were all pleased that they were able to end the season
with their best score of the year.

“We basically went out with a bang, because we scored our
highest team total ever,” freshman Aaron Rakes said.
“We had a whole bunch of individual highs on a couple of
events. It’s really good to go out on a high note.”

Rakes was one of three Wolverines to end the weekend as an
All-American. He placed seventh on pommel horse.

“It’s a really great feeling,” Rakes said.
“I had no idea that I would have this opportunity to make
All-American because the competition was real good. I just happened
to hit real well. It’s exciting because I’m a
freshman.”

Bottke also finished the event finals as an All-American. He put
together what he described as his best routine since he started
training to place fifth in the nation on the floor.

Sophomore Justin Laury, one of the favorites on the high bar,
struggled during the finals of his event. But his all-around score
of 54.675 was good enough to earn him fifth place. It was the
second year in a row that Laury was an All-American in the
all-around competition.

“It was a little bit of a disappointment because I thought
that Justin could probably win high bar,” Golder said.
“But he did a great job for us overall. He had a great
weekend.”

When the gymnasts came into Assembly Hall, where the competition
was held, they were greeted by artificial smoke, bright lights and
thousands of screaming Illinois fans. The arena was deafening the
entire night.

“Coming into here is the most amazing thing ever,”
Laury said. “As far as gymnastics goes, I have never
experienced anything like this.

“It’s so loud, and it’s so intense. It really
gets your adrenaline going.”

Rakes — who had never been to NCAAs before —
agreed.

“The atmosphere was why I was able to perform so
well,” Rakes said. “Emotionally, everyone was excited.
And for me, my excitement overcame my nervousness. It didn’t
feel like a competition with all of the yelling.

“We are just going to work so much harder this summer and
next year. And we’re not going to take anything less at the
first meet.”

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