BY COLT ROSENSWEIG
Daily Sports Writer
Published January 5, 2009
On Dec. 13, the Michigan men’s gymnastics team took its first step toward the new season with the Maize and Blue Intrasquad.
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Before step two — the Windy City Invitational on Jan. 17 — the sixth-ranked Wolverines have a mountain of work left to do.
The Blue team beat the Maize in Michigan’s annual intrasquad for the first time since 2005 by a healthy 253.10-248.95 margin. But for both sides, there were plenty of areas for concern. Scores were low across the board, with the vaulters struggling to break into the 15-point range.
“We missed a lot of routines,” Michigan coach Kurt Golder said. “I think the hit percentage was pretty high for the typical Maize and Blue, but it showed me how far we’ve got to go in every event.”
Despite a lack of depth that could hurt the Wolverines on the rings and high bar, the biggest worry was vault.
The vault squad’s major issue is not performing difficult routines, with only junior co-captain David Chan performing a 16.6 start value vault. Several gymnasts capable of double twisting vaults were cut back to just fulls for the intrasquad as a safety precaution. But at this point, Michigan’s start values fall short in comparison to the other top teams around the country.
Sophomore Chris Cameron, competing in the all-around competition for the first time in two years won the title with an 85.50. And though he also finished first on pommel horse and rings, he wasn’t fully satisfied with either his performance or the team’s.
“On my key events, I wasn’t where I needed to be,” Cameron said. “As far as the team goes … we’re pretty far back at this point in the season, and we do want to win a national championship.”
One Wolverine who may be ahead of the game is freshman Syque Caesar. Since his arrival at Michigan, Caesar's teammates have marveled at his rapid improvement under a professional coaching staff.
In the intrasquad, Caesar put to rest any worries about his performance under pressure. For the exhibition, the top three scores on each event counted toward the team’s overall total. On all three of his events — floor, vault and parallel bars — Caesar not only hit, he posted a counting score.
Rather than being nervous before his first college competition, Caesar said he felt prepared. And he welcomed the change to the enthusiastic atmosphere.
“Before you come to college, the meets are dead silent,” Caesar said. “That’s when you’re really nervous. Gymnastics is an individual sport, really, and coming to a place where it becomes a team sport, it really lightens the mood.”
After competing sporadically over the past three years, senior Ryan McCarthy showed why he should be in the lineup regularly this season, hitting all his routines. And for the first time in competition, McCarthy hit his flashiest high bar release, a Kolman.
“It’s a really good feeling when you let go of the bar and you know everything is on,” McCarthy said. “You come around, and you spot the high bar, and you know it’s right there to catch.”
Golder worried about injury in the intrasquad because the first meet of the season is always high-risk. And his concerns won’t end with the Windy City Invitational. Like the intrasquad, the invitational will come after a break from regular practice, and the whole team may not be back in rhythm.
“I’m just concerned about safety,” Golder said. “I think the key for Windy City is just going for consistency. Walk out of there healthy with a high hit percentage and worry about increasing your difficulty later on in the season.”