Michigan enters the 2014 NCAA Championships fresh off of its defense of the Big Ten Title in Lincoln, Nebraska. Your Wolverines continued their undefeated run and repeated as Big Ten Champions, putting up a dominant, season-high 448.2 and besting second-place Ohio State by seven points. Senior Sam Mikulak defended his all-around title as well, posting a career-high and downright impressive 93.7. What is more, they did all of this in the face of serious adversity following a torn biceps to Stacey Ervin during the first skill of his parallel bar routine in the second rotation; it was abundantly clear that your Wolverine’s practiced exactly what Coach Golder preaches regarding the importance of “Handling Everything.”
The Maize and Blue started off the evening strong with a stuck Kasamatsu-full from Syque Caesar for a 15.15. The following four vaulters added a half twist to complete Kasamatsu full-and-a-halfs with Konner Ackerman posting a 14.95 and Paul Rizkalla Jr. a 15.15. Sam Mikulak started off his campaign to defend his all-around title with a 15.25 and Tristian Perez-Rivera stuck his vault for a 15.3. Jordan Gaarenstroom kicked off the second rotation with one of the better routines he completed all year, which earned him a solid 14.9. Stacey Ervin showed remarkable poise and courage, completing his parallel bars set after tearing his right biceps on the first skill of his routine; in a five-up, five-count scenario it very well may have been a gutsy performance like that which saved a championship. Despite the setback, the Maize and Blue responded immediately with Nick Hunter putting together a solid 14.8, Caesar continuing his high execution and hit percentage for a 15.4, and Mikulak capping off the rotation and his set with a flawless double-pike dismount for a 16.0.
Senior Co-Captain showed his leadership stepping up to lead-off high bar and filling Ervin’s spot, sticking his dismount to top it off. Ackerman kept the momentum rolling with a solid 14.2 and Hunter fought through his set to register a 14.05. Caesar showed off a beautiful full-Takamoto-Yamawaki combination for a 14.9 and Mikulak again closed off the rotation in a big way, catching a flawless Kolman and posting a 16.0. On floor, freshman Anthony Stefanelli hit a newly designed routine, featuring a sky-high double-double and registered his first stuck dismount of the year, earning a 14.7. Senior Jordan Gaarenstroom stepped up with a solid set to fill Ervin’s line-up spot, sticking his dismount as well and matching Stefanelli’s score. Perez-Rivera and Caesar continued Michigan’s momentum, earning a 14.9 and a 14.75, respectively, and Mikulak again closed with the highest score of the rotation: 15.7.
After a bye rotation your Wolverines headed to pommel horse where sophomore Nolan Novak led off with one his best sets of the season for a14.8. Freeman kept the hits coming, adding an E-flop and posting a 15.0. Hunter contributed a hit routine of his own for a 14.7 and despite an error and rather tight judging, Dylan James’ stretched swing and overall aesthetic still scraped a 13.3 which was enough to keep Michigan in control. Mikulak cleaned up with a dynamic E handstand dismount, a 15.3 and one of the better sets of his season as well. Five routines now separated Michigan from defending its Big Ten title. Colin Mahar led-off, registering his second stuck dismount in a row and breaking the 15-mark with a 15.3. Next up was Freeman, who again came through with a 15.0. Gaarenstroom matched his fellow graduating senior’s mark and Alex Bubnov showcased exquisite strength and taking one step on his dismount for a 15.5. Only Mikulak remained and as he landed his double-twisting double back tuck dismount with a small step, all in the Michigan corral knew that they had clinched a repeat title.
Persevering through yet another injury, your Wolverines claimed the program’s seventeenth Big Ten title. Their closest competition was Ohio State, finishing a distant second separated by over seven points. Almost four points separated Sam Mikulak from his closest competition in the all-around, with OSU’s Sean Melton’s posting an 89.75; en route to his third Big Ten all-around title, Mikulak notched the top score of the evening on four events and qualified to event finals on all six events. Attached you will find a photo of your Wolverines celebrating the win!
In NCAA post-season action there is little time rest on laurels, however; in further demonstration of their dominant Friday night performance, your Wolverines qualified eleven competitors and accounted for 21 of the top 60 routines, making for a busy individual Event Finals on Saturday evening. On floor exercise Mikulak and Perez-Rivera hit solid routines, the latter sticking his triple-full dismount and holding onto the lead up until the final competitor clinched the event title. Perez-Rivera’s 15.325 earned him a silver medal and Mikulak took home the bronze with a 15.25. On pommel horse, Novak and Mikulak encountered some adversity but Freeman and Hunter both posted hit sets, earning 14.175 and 14.5, respectively. Hunter’s mark was good enough for his first trip to a Big Ten individual event podium and a sixth place finish.
All three of Michigan’s rings finalists again broke the 15.0 mark, with Colin Mahar earning a 15.05 in his first Event Finals appearance, Gaarenstroom improving on his previous night’s showing with a 15.15 and Bubnov claiming fourth with a 15.325. Michigan was well-represented in vault finals, having qualified its entire line-up to the second day of competition. Perez-Rivera and Caesar tied for seventh, Konner Ackerman earned sixth with a 14.675, Mikulak finished just outside the medals in fourth with a 14.925 and Rizkalla stuck his Kasamatsu full-and-a-half for a 15.225 and the silver medal. Nick Hunter again earned a spot on the podium with a 15.05 and a sixth place finish on parallel bars. Caesar and Mikulak shared the bronze medal with a 15.2. On the final event of the evening Mikulak posted a 14.3 on high bar and Caesar claimed fifth with a 14.75.
At the conclusion of the championships, Michigan walked away not only with the team and all-around titles, but also three All-Big Ten Second-Team selections (Caesar, Perez-Rivera, and Rizkalla), and an All-Big Ten First Team selection (Mikulak). Mikulak was also named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year for the third time in his career, and Coach Golder was honored as Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Michigan looks to close out the season at home in the beautifully renovated Crisler Center, eyeing their sixth program NCAA Team Championship and the program’s first-ever consecutive titles. Thursday, April 10th, will serve as the NCAA Qualifier, with Michigan competing in the second of two preliminary sessions, each with six teams and individual qualifiers. The top three teams from each session will compete again the following evening at the NCAA Team Finals, where the all-around title will also be up for grabs. Sam Mikulak looks to up his career NCAA All-Around Title tally up to three and make bring home Michigan’s fourth all-around champion in the past five years (Chris Cameron in 2010 and Sam Mikulak in 2011 and 2013). Michigan will finally have its first view of the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, and what better time than with the NCAA Championship on the line!
The top ten scores from each event on during Team Finals will qualify for a spot in Event Finals, which will be held Saturday, April 12th and the top eight finishers on each event will earn All-American citations. Michigan looks to match or exceed the lofty 13 All-American citations it earned last season (a team record tying the 2010 mark) and Mikulak will eye his second consecutive parallel bar title and third consecutive high bar title.