Michigan men’s gymnastics coach Kurt Golder said Sunday he doesn’t expect this season to match what has transpired in the last four. The Wolverines are preparing for their season opener next month, but the void left by the senior class is just too big to fill, he said.  

“Not this year,” Golder said. “They were too good.  But we can progress a long way to get to that.”

The Michigan men’s gymnastics team has been good for a while. After capturing two national titles in the last three years, the graduating senior class left a gaping hole in the program. The fifth-ranked Wolverines return just seven out of 25 routines from their lineup from the NCAA Championships last season.

Yet even after losing athletes like NCAA All-American junior Tristan Perez-Rivera for the season to a knee injury, the team is full of energy and has high aspirations for the season.

Michigan welcomes a strong recruiting class — 15 freshmen made their debuts at the annual Maize-Blue intrasquad exhibition on Sunday, as fans peered in to see if this Wolverine squad could rely on such a young roster.

The first-year Wolverines did nothing to give anyone reason to doubt their abilities. Five out of the six highest-scoring gymnasts were freshmen.

This class features redshirt freshman Marty Stretch and true freshmen Emyre Cole and Anthony McCallum, none of whom are strangers to the spotlight.

Stretch has been a member of the U.S. National Team since 2011, and placed second overall at the USA Championships in 2013. Cole and McCallum have also competed on the national level — Cole won the U.S. National Qualifier in 2015, and McCallum placed first in the floor and vault at the 2015 Junior National Championships.  

But Cole, like his coach, recognizes the freshmen have work to do.

“We mess up sometimes,” he said. “But hey, we’re freshmen.”

Though there might be a learning curve for these freshmen, Golder continues to be impressed by their talent. One of the highlights of Sunday’s meet featured McCallum performing and landing an extremely difficult vault exercise, earning him a score of 15.3, the highest single-event score of the day.

“There’s only a few people in the world that are capable of doing that vault,” Golder said. “It wasn’t a surprise because he’s been doing it in the gym really well, but doing it in competition … that’s another thing.”

This is Golder’s youngest team in his 20-year tenure at Michigan, but he hopes this team can reach its potential in the upcoming months. For him, that means finishing top six nationally and top three in the Big Ten. 

One person who quickly figured out how to make an impact as a freshman is All-American sophomore Dmitri Belanovski, who in his first year was named team MVP and led the 2015 squad to a spot at the NCAA Championships. Belanovski’s performance on Sunday did not reveal any signs of slowing down. He won the meet with an overall score of 84.4.

Belanovski was placed alongside Cole on the 2016 Big Ten Men’s Gymnasts to Watch list. Though Belanovski was expected to be listed, Cole was pleasantly surprised by the honor and says he will use it as motivation in upcoming meets. 

Cole said his ultimate goal for 2016 is being named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. However, many of his competitors for the award are wearing the same colors.

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