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Men Narrowly Defeat Vermont

By David Hu


Last Saturday, just one week after a heavy loss to Springfield College, the MIT men’s gymnastics team competed against the University of Vermont in their last meet of the season. A loss would leave MIT with a losing season, but a win would give MIT a winning season and an opportunity to compete at the USA Gymnastics National Collegiate Championships.

The Engineers earned their highest score of the year to beat Vermont by one-third of one point, 160.1 to 159.8.

“I don’t know how this happened,” said Noah Riskin, coach of the team.

The Engineers began the meet on floor exercise, tumbling with power and control. Captain Luke A. Massery ’02 received an 8.30, the highest score for either team. David Yin ’01 ended his routine with a spontaneous new element: a twisting, hand-flapping back somersault to prone fall.

On pommel horse, the Engineers swung their worst this season. Starting with David L. Hu ’01, a domino effect began in which every man missed his mounting skill, which determines much of the team’s score.

The Engineers’ final pommel horse score was four points lower than last meet’s score, and it was seemingly enough to put the meet out of the Engineers’ grasp.

After the disaster on pommel horse, Riskin gathered the team together. “Don’t think about Nationals,” said Riskin. “In the grand scale of infinite time and the universe, it won’t matter.” He paused, and from the eye of the huddle, the crowd seemed silent.

“Don’t think of that small stuff. It will make you anxious, and you can’t be tentative or hesitant if you want to do these skills,” said Riskin. “You’ve got to go all the way, let it all out. That’s gymnastics.”

During the remainder of the meet, the team took its time. The team again made mistakes, such as in “stutzes” on parallel bars, taking steps on dismounts, and landing awkwardly, said Riskin. But for the first time this season, the team didn’t look back and performed cleanly and mindfully.

Damian M Engen ’03 scored a total score of 45.95, garnering the meet’s highest all-around score and highest individual scores on pommel horse, vault, parallel bars, and high bar. He successfully completed his Yager release move, a somersault and regrasp of the high bar and was called “Division I quality” by members of the audience.

Patrick R. Griffin’s ’04 diligently practiced “pike-through” and “tsukihara” pleased the crowd, as well has his ability to control his famous swing of the still rings. He scored a 40.95, the second-highest score for MIT. When asked if he “had a good meet,” the usually self-critical Griffin paused and responded, “Yes, I did.”

Massery set a personal record with a total score of 40.20. Massery’s immense control both on and off the apparatus was noticed by an anonymous Rhode Island coach, who left a note “for Luke.”

However, Saturday’s very close win was owed in large part to Mammy G. Sterling ’03. Sterling performed several new advanced skills on rings and high bar, including a double back somersault dismount. More admirably, under the urgings of Riskin, he learned these skills on his day off, when he, like a true Engineer, arrived at gym “to cram.”

The most touching point of the day’s meet occurred when Gary Bruening, Vermont’s coach of 15 years, approached Riskin at the end of the meet. In the previous four years, Bruening’s team had consistently trounced the Engineers. Now, Bruening asked Riskin, “what’s your secret?”

The mottos of the men’s gymnastics team throughout the years have been “do something right,” “just stay on” and “care.” For the past years, this team has competed against bigger, stronger, recruited gymnasts, while still garnering the most hand-over-mouth giggling from NCAA judges. Now, pending financial approval from the athletics department, this same team, for the first time in four years, may very well qualify for Nationals this year at UC-Davis.

“The men’s concentrated work and support of one another throughout the season has made for well-done, good-quality gymnastics,” said Riskin. “We must keep the edge on, for we know how easily things fall apart. In fact, next week, you’ll experience levels of intimacy with the pommel horse never imagined.”