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Wolverines look toward Big Tens this weekend with Ohio State and Illinois on their heels

Marissa McClain/Daily
Junior Chris Cameron competes in floor exercise event in a meet with Penn State on January 24th, 2010 in Cliff Keen Arena. Michigan won the meet. Buy this photo

BY MICHAEL LAURILA
Daily Sports Writer
Published March 31, 2010

Having tied with Illinois last year for the Big Ten Championship, the No. 4 Michigan men’s gymnastics team will be looking to claim the outright crown this upcoming weekend in Columbus.

And its biggest hurdle will be the third-ranked Fighting Illini. During the season, the Wolverines beat Illinois by a single point in a dual meet.

“(Illinois) is going to be right up there with us,” junior Chris Cameron said. “There are no two teams that are easily as matched as us and Illinois in the entire country. They’re going to be right with us and right with us at NCAA too, and it’s up to us to beat them. We definitely recognize them as a threat to our possible titles.”

Another hurdle, almost as dangerous as the Fighting Illini, will be No. 5 Ohio State.

Michigan is coming off a 10.65-point trouncing of the Buckeyes in the final dual meet of the season.

Last year, then-sophomore Thomas Kelley won the all-around competition, and Cameron finished right behind him. And after senior Mel Santander’s record-breaking performance against Ohio State, he is hoping to join Kelley and Cameron in the ranks of the all-around crown winners.

“I feel that between Chris, Mel and I, if we have a solid performance on five events, then that’s going to be pretty good for our team standings,” Kelley said. “That’s the number-one goal right now.”

Throughout the season, Michigan has had trouble putting together a complete performance. Before the team's March 20 matchup with Ohio State, when it had a season-best score, it usually had one or two sloppy events.

But after that performance against the Buckeyes, Michigan coach Kurt Golder is seeing his team peak at the right time.

“I think it’s an accumulation of all the work we’ve been doing and it finally started to pay off," Golder said. "We’ve done a lot of intersquad meets following the same format that we’ll compete in and that will help the guys to be familiar and know what to expect.”

Though it will probably be a very close competition, the Wolverines are looking to use their experience and their ability to remain calm to their advantage this weekend.

“We're just going to be aggressive,” Santander said. “Attack each event one step at a time. Last year around this time, the coaches reminded us of three things: be confident, be aggressive and also be relaxed while doing it. That definitely helped us last season so hopefully it will this season, too.”

In a tournament-style meet like Big Tens, each team begins at a specific rotation. Not only is the opening event important, but it also determines the event that the team will end on. And Michigan has had many meets this year in which they have closed very well, so they will hope to do that again this weekend.

“It’s the combination of the two because you definitely want to get off to a good start, but then the pressure is on at the end,” Golder said. “Those are the two pressure points, the first event and the last event. You always try to end on an event that’s either high scoring or you’re comfortable with.”

After this weekend in Columbus, the Wolverines will have just two weeks before their final meet of the season — NCAAs, which take place in West Point, N.Y.

“If we win, we’ll be motivated to continue what we’re doing,” Kelley said. “If we lose, we’ll be super pissed and even more motivated to avenge our loss. Ultimately, we’re taking one meet at a time and losing isn’t really an option. We’re not going in there with that mindset.”