4 - The Michigan Daily - SPORTSMonday - Monday, January 31, 1994
With small steps, women tumblers continue climb to top
By MELANIE SCHUMAN
DAILY SPORTS WRITER
Since coming to Michigan, Coach
Bev Plocki has taken the women's gym-
nastics team from the basement of the
Big Ten to one of the elite teams in the
But.if you had foretold the future
when she arrived in Septemberof 1990,
you may have been dismissed as an-,
other employee of the Psychic Friends
In order to carry the program uR
through regional and national rankings;
Plocki -now Michigan's winningest
women's gymnastics coach -optedto
take baby steps.
Even with her success, maintaining
a realistic set of goals is the key to
Greeted by a team whose commit-
ment and basic performance level were
at best questionable, Plocki restructured
the training program for her athletes
and introduced afresh concept-win-
ning.In one season, the team improved
on its 2-19 recordof 1989 to a mark of
Herself an All-American gymnast
and record-holder at West Virginia,
Plocki knows what it's like to win. The
time had come for her to relay that
prosperity to her new team.
tude and performance, she began to
take grander steps toward improvement,
and seized the responsibility of person-
ally selecting the members of her team,
not just coaching them.
Plocki's first recruiting class con-
sisted of now-senior standouts Nicole
Simpson, Wendy Wilkinson (junioreli-
gibility) and Kelly Carfora (junior eli-
gibility). The cycle of winning had be-
gun as the Michigan gymnastics pro-
gram began attracting Level 10 and
national competitors such as Carfora
and Wilkinson. To draw women who
had already competed at levels rated
beyond college was a stride in itself.
"Since them, every year we've been
able to take a step up in the level of
athlete we can recruit,",Plocki said,.
And so the climb towards champi-
onships continued when Plocki's sec-
ond recruiting class joined the Wolver-
ines at a time which she described as "a
major step in our program.''
"This was the first time we could
recruit and attract elite level athletes,"
This leap broughtDebbie Berman,
Li LiLeung, May May Leung and Beth
Wymer to Ann Arbor. Since then, the
realistic goals have been achieved and
the door to the top has been unlocked.
"The junior class can carry up and
takeover the motivational role," Plocki
4t already has.
In its freshman year, the current
juniors helped the Michigan program
gain national exposure when the Wol-
verines won the Big Ten Champion-
ships. Every year since, Plocki's ex-
pectations have grown as the talent
level of her athletes has.
Gymnasts who didn't possess the
highest level of ability began working
harder to lift themselves to that level of
competition, and the Wolverines were
creating ateam to be reckoned with. In
just two seasons, the group has risen
from a national ranking in the upper
40's to its current No.9, and now they
are striving to reach the Super Six elite.
Performances by Wymer, Berman
and Li Li Leung at NCAA nationals
are the individual efforts which will
carry thesehopefuls toaranking among
the top six teams of the country.
In one sense, the junior class is
described as the heart of the team. It is
a diverse group whose friendship and
loyalty extends outside the gymna-
sium. The bonding which occurs within
this group creates a support system not
uncommon to the rest of the squad.
These women have become role
models for the rest of the team to
"My (freshman) year everyone im-
proved when our class came in. We
raised up the skill level of gymnastics
(at Michigan)," Wymer said.
In her first year, Wymer earned
NCAA first team All-American and
Big Ten Gymnast-of-the-Year honors.
Continuing this success, she collected
one national and three Big Ten event
titles last season.
She is not alone in these accom-
plishments. Berman achieved personal
best scores at nationals, and through-
out her freshman and sophomore sea-
A former Level 10 and California
state champion, Berman believes the
junior class has been rather powerful.
But she regards her peers' support
through the ups and downs as the most
valuable contribution to the team.
"It's easy when you see someone
go down in front of you to get freaked
out and you want everyone else to pick
it up," she said.
Wymer and Berman's friendship
dates back to their freshmen year when
they were roommates. They have stuck
together to overcome obstacles both in
and out of the gym.
"Outside the gym...(Debbie, May
May and Li Li) do a good job of staying
away from gymnastics," Wymer said.
"We get personal with each other's
lives. It's not only in the gym we help
In gymnastics, help can be defined
as spotting, or assisting a teammate in
stretching exercises. But for these gym-
nasts, help had to be redefined.
"There are always going to be
obstacles...injury, personal and aca-
demic," Berman acknowledged.
Yet help does come from friends
outside the junior circle. Besides the
other 11 women on the team, the squad
has a following forecasted well over
1,000 per home meet, averaging more
than any other non-revenue sport.
Thousands of fans have flocked to
the sidelines since Plocki's first season
with the Wolverines, when their suc-
May May Leung believes the jun-
iors are the core of this success, but
when they came in and won Big Tens
her first year, their "goals were lofty."
An alternate to the U.S. National
Team while in high school, May May
was awarded Michigan's Most Coura-
geous Award in 1992 when she missed
most of the seasonwith an injury. Leung
was also unable to compete last year,
and again this yeardue to achilles inju-
Twin sister Li ..i knows about in-
jury because she his been plagued by
them as well.
A member of th> 1991 U.S. Olym-
pic Festival champion team, Li Li's
biggest accomplishnent since coming
to Michigan has beet her persever@e
to overcome injuries. She came back
from foot and achiles injuries, and
scored personal bests at Big Tens and
NCAA Regionals,not to mention mak-
ing it to the NCAA mtionals last sea-
So despite injuries and obstacles
outside the gym, these four women
have stuck together and continue tobe'
the life of this team. And when
leave, what wit happen?
"Of course, we will hate to lose
them," assistant;oach Melissa Kutcher
said. "That's wiere recruiting comes
in. Hopefully wecan get people to pick
up the slack whe they leave."
tinue. She will bein taking those baby
steps again over he next two years in
preparation for the juniors' departure.
While the foui juniors accredi e
whole team with ;very success of the
Michigan program, there's no denying
that these individials have lifted the
women's gymnaste team to the top of
Wolverines favored to repeat as champs
By TIM MINT.
DAILY SPORTS WRITER
If there is such a thing as king of the hill in gymnastics, the Michigan
women's gymnastic team would be sitting on that throne. After winning the
Big Ten crown last season, the Wolverines are expected to be the target in every
Although only seven women's gymnastics teams are in the Big Ten, a
survey of the conference's coaches reveals a competitive balance.
Michigan is considered by most to be the solid favorite, with Penn State
slated as the runner-up. After the Wolverines and Nittany Lions, however, the
conference seems to be marked by parity.
Any one of the other five - Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Illinois
and Iowa - have an opportunity to inflict some damage before season's end.
However, Minnesota coach Jim Stevenson has said that the teams other than
Michigan may have their days in the sun sooner than expected.
"I think in the very near future the other schools in the conference are going
eta tt eyP ichigan finds itself noW" Stevenson said. "I think the Big
Ten is they fastest developing gymnastics conference in the country."
The following are listed in the Daily's projected order of finish:
1. Michigan - The Wolverines look ready to capture the conference crown
once again, with the major task of ignoring the pressure to repeat ahead of them.
"Trying to 'win the Big Ten championship for a second time puts more
pressure on us as a team than actually going out and winning the first one,"
Michigan coach Bev Plocki said.
Plocki feels that bars will be the team's strongest event, and the Maize and
Blue lack any apparent weaknesses.
"Provided that everybody is healthy, our starting lineups on all events are
going to ibe strong." Plocki said.
All-Americans Beth Wymer and Wendy Marshall will lead Michigan.
Other Wolverines to keep an eye on are Debbie Berman, Kelly Carfora, Li Li
Leung and Wendy Wilkinson.
2. Penn State - The Nittany Lions do not want to sit back and just hand
Michigan the Big Ten title. Even though the team is slated by most to finish
second, the goal of claiming the Big Ten title will fuel them all season.
"I think we'll be competing for the top spot," Penn State coach Steve
Shephard said. "We have just as good a.shot as anyone to win."
Penn State's bars and beams will be its major strengths this season, with the
floor exercise and vault needing a little work.
.The Nittany Lions will be lead by April Polito, Bridgette Foley and Tracy
Kerner. Shephard said freshman Leigh Capello has been coming along nicely
and should help the Lions in their quest for the title.
3. Ohio State - The Buckeyes are a team on the rise, especially after
recruiting a strong freshman class. The rookies, combined with the already
experienced team members, may make Ohio State a surpise team in the
"I think they have a lot of talent, but I think they're really nconsistent right
now," Shephard said. "I think if they pull it together and get coisistent, they can
give everybody a run for their money."
4. Michigan State - The Spartans look to break thi streak of two
consecutive third-place finishes by coming out and surprising some people.
"We're tired of that position," Spartan coach Kathie Kiges said. "We
would like to see us move up."
Michigan State opened with a shaky start, and has sufered numerous
injuries. Although they have six solid competitors, the Spartan' lack of depth
may pose a problem.
"We have a number of athletes that are recovering from injuies who are out
of the lineup right now," Klages said. "I anticipate it gettingstronger as the
The Spartans, whose strength will be their balance-beam team, will be lead
by sophomore Jodi Blotcher and transfer Sherry Larson.
5. Iowa - The Hawkeyes come into the season with a strongteam, and they
have just as much of a chance to challenge for the No. 3 spot a; the rest o'e
Sophomore Kim Baker, who took third in the overall cenpetition lasi
weekend in the Bahamas Sunshine Invitational, heads the Haveye lineup,
6. Illinois - The Fighting Illini are coming off a last-place finish in the Big
Ten, and they are hoping that 1994 will find them climbing ou of the cellar
Led by first-year coach Lynn Crane, Illinois is in a state of tranition, but that
won't stop them from working hard.
"The girls are doing a great job," Crane said. "'We're trainirg really hard
right now. The girls are probably in the best shape they've ever teen in."
The Illini may be a little inconsistent this year but Crane said tle leaderj
of freshman Nicole Viernes should help them to achieve their pcential.
Showing a little first-year brashness, Crane won't be satisfrd with ,the
team's expected low finish.
"We're going after Michigan and Penn State," Crane said. 'That's ou
7. Minnesota - The Golden Gophers will have a tough go of it :his season
as five of their 11 gymnasts are freshman. Stevenson's team does iot have ar
exceptionally strong team leader or performer, but he feels that spreading hii
gymnasts around to many events will be to his team's advantage
"I don't have somebody who's corralling this group and tigging then
along," Stevenson said. "I really have a pretty evenly delegated stuation Of
people. They all seem to be working together and are on the sane page wit]
Junior Debbie Berman, here performing the floor exercise, is one of the
reasons why the Michigan gymnastics team is a conference favorite.
Besides opponents, women gymnasts battle G-forces to avoid injuries
By TOM BAUSANO
DAILY SPORTS WRITER
A broken foot, three ruptured
Achilles tendons, four reconstructive
knee surgeries, tailbone fracture, dis-
located elbow, torn liganheints in
thumb, and chronic back and shoulder
At first glance most people would
associate this list of injuries with the
offensive line of a professional foot-
ball team, but in fact these are just
some of the injuries the women's gym-
nastics team have overcome in the last
The athleticism of gymnastics of-
ten goes unnoticed because the gym-
nasts make the routines seem so ef-
D11r-ino , the crse of af i mneti-
ability to cope with these realities of
Almost every gymnast onthe team
has persevered through a serious in-
jury. The experience of going through
the longionths of rehabilitation has
not only strengthened the individu-
als, but it has also made the team
"I don't think the number of inju-
ries are a positive thing," senior
Wendy Wilkinson said, "but it was
inspiring to see others come back. It
all comes down to team. I just had so
much support from the team and with-
out it I'm not sure if I would have
Coach Bev Plocki has incorpo-
rated the supportive nature of the team
into the r mmptiti flhDring the
letes, inevitably the ability to come "One thing that helps in
back from injury depends on the drive back is determination and
of each gymnast. ment," sophomore Dianna
coming said. "I knew that whatever was in the
commit- way it wasn't going to stop me. You
Ranelli know that there are people who want
you back and if you need someone to
talk to at any time you know they will
"Injury is part of the sport - it's
expected," junior Li Li Leung said.
"The sport is in my blood. When you're
hurt and you see the team pull together
and work hard to close the gap it gives
you the fighting spirit to come back.
"If I sustained an injury and gave
up I would consider myself a quitter
and I wouldn't want to do that."
Gymnasts learn at the lowest lev-
els of the sport to take the proper
precautions to reduce the chance of
F "I think the number of hard land-
Strength, flexibility aid enduranc
are just prerequisites foi entering in
gymnastics. The Wol7erines11
learned that coping w.th fears an
dealing with injury are essential
success in the sport.