Jan. 15, 2014
As the start of the 2014 season nears -- starting with the Windy City Invite Saturday Night (Jan. 18) -- head coach Kurt Golder discusses this year's squad, its strengths, what to look for and more in an exclusive one-on-one interview.
What are the biggest challenges for the team this season?
We need to remain healthy, as we have already taken a few major hits in the preseason with the loss of Mike Strathern for the entire year. He had surgery on the foot that had been bothering him for several years. Hopefully, he will be back and have full strength next year, but we will be without him; a very talented individual. Also, Konner Ackerman dislocated his elbow, and that's probably going to be slow to come back; we don't know when or if we will get him back this year. That's always the main challenge, and then of course, getting them to all come together at the right time at Big Tens and NCAAs is always the next challenge. Hopefully hosting NCAAs this year will be a positive, but when you're in front of your home crowd and the expectation is real high for you from the general public as well as the department and so forth, it's a different kind of pressure. However, it certainly puts more pressure on you. I have seen over the years, that the teams that have hosted have always had very, very good meets. Hopefully, that will come to be also.
Who are the leaders on this year's team?
Syque Caesar is a tremendous leader, and the other co-captain is Matt Freeman. He's not as vocal as Syque, but he's a down-to-business, no-nonsense type of guy. He just keeps working, has a heart of gold; he will help anyone out -- give them the shirt off his back anytime. I feel very fortunate that we don't just have captains that are leaders, we have maybe 24 guys and about 20 of them have good leadership characteristics. I look at it as we don't have just four coaches, we have 28 coaches, and we don't just have two leaders as full captains. It's a real good dynamic.
What are the strengths of the team this year?
I'd start with the all-around position, when you have somebody like Sam Mikulak, who's one of the best in the world, and you have Adrian de los Angeles, who would have been, as a sophomore, Big Ten and NCAA All-Around champion, if it weren't for his teammate, Sam, beating him. Then the emergence of Stacey Ervin this summer at US Championships; he really kicked it out in the all-around. Jordan Gaarenstroom is coming on real strong. I think that's one of our best attributes that we have as a team. I believe that if we put it all together on parallel bars, we smoked the competition last year at NCAAs, and I think we are going to be a much better p-bar team this year than we were last year. If we are looking at one event, that would definitely be the event.
What does the Big Ten landscape look like?
First of all, hitting all your routines; we're in a format where you put five guys up on each of the six Olympic events, and every score counts; if you make a mistake it is critical, it can take you down. To hit 100 percent at a championship meet is a very hard thing to do.
At Big Tens, Minnesota hit 100 percent. At the NCAA Super Six, Iowa hit 100 percent. Penn State will be down just a little bit this year because they had a lot of seniors last year, a lot of graduation; I don't really know their freshman class that well, but I doubt that the freshman can replace the seniors, so they may be down a little bit. Then Ohio State, they had a couple of key guys injured on their team last year, and they got really talented freshmen, so I think that Ohio State is going emerge; they are going to climb the ladder and exceed a lot of people's expectations. Two years ago, Illinois won the NCAA championship, and they lost their top all-arounder, and they are going to gain him back this year, CJ Maestas. Sam didn't have his best day, but he and Sam tied for NCAA runner-up in the all-around. He is a very good athlete. Our conference is going to be really, really tight, as there are so many good aspects to every team that I mentioned.
What are the home meets to see?
The meet that you want to see is all four of them. We have four home meets. The reason that I say that is because we have multiple national team members, we have multiple Olympians on our team. There's not that many teams on campus where you can go watch a competition and see multiple Olympians, that's defending NCAA and Big Ten championships. I would say we have the best athlete on campus in Sam. I might be a bit bias, but I think that's very accurate too. Ohio State might be the one that stands out the most because they are going to emerge, and it's Michigan-Ohio State, and we will also raise our championship banner that day as well.
On hosting the NCAA Championships...
Michigan has a history of not hosting many NCAA Championships, and to be the No. 1 team where we're hosting, we're the defending national champions and unanimously ranked number one. Like I said, multiple national team members, multiple Olympians, a brand new Crisler Center -- it's a fantastic facility; there's been a lot of work going on behind the scenes since school started and even before that, so I think it is going to be a really good show. We are looking for record breaking attendance, and if I am a Michigan fan or if I am a gymnastics fan, I wouldn't miss this for anything. It could be one of the best competitions in a decade in this country judging by the talent that will be on hand.
What can fans look forward to seeing at our meets this year?
One thing they'll see is a lot of team spirit, there's a lot of energy, and there is a lot of support from one athlete to the other. Everybody's got everybody else's back; it's a fun competition to take in. What else you can expect to see is we have the most difficulty in the NCAA and the best execution in the NCAA. It's a really exciting competition when you go with the five-up, five-count, as everything counts.
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