14 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Team mentality key to Michigan
The No. 10 Michigan women's.
gymnastics team may be going to its
11th straight NCAA Championships in
Lincoln, Neb., and may have won its
fifth-straight Big Ten title and sixth
regional championship, but this year
has been anything but normal.
"This is definitely not a typical
Michigan season," Michigan coach
Bev Plocki said. "I didn't really know
what was going to happen. I was obvi-
ously extremely nervous."
This season has been about much
more than championships. It has been
about heart, coming together as a team
and overcoming obstacles. Most
importantly, the adversity has pro-
duced new stars that have stepped up
to fill the void left by the injured.
"This team this year has put 200
percent of themselves into it, more
than any of us knew they even had to
put into it," Plocki said.
The adversity started with the sea-
son-ending shoulder injury to super-
star Elise Ray in December. Then,
2001 Junior Olympic all-around cham-
pion Rachel Colon was ruled academi-
cally ineligible. Kallie Steffes suffered
a season-ending femur injury, and
Christine Mantilia went down with a
torn ACL. Suddenly, nearly half the
lineup was on the sidelines.
The Wolverines were desperately
thin in all areas, but especially in the
uneven bars, where both Ray and
Mantilia would have been regulars. So
Michigan turned to untested and
unproven gymnasts to get through.
The new lineup worked for a little
bit, as the Wolverines rolled through
their first three meets. But the wheels
came off the wagon in East Lansing on
Feb. 2, when Michigan had its worst
meet in years. Running five gymnasts
on some events, Michigan counted
numerous falls and had its streak of 40
conference wins end.
After the debacle, there was a team
meeting in which coaches gave the
gymnasts a choice to either go out
there and hit, or throw in the towel. The
team responded in spectacular fashion.
"I've coached for about 20 years,
and this is the second time ever in my
whole career that I've been able to
work with a group of kids that have
really pulled together in a very
unselfish way and been always all
about the team," assistant coach
Joanne Bowers said. "They're very,
very set on their goals as a group."
"Every week I've been more
impressed than the week before about
the toughness and determination of
these kids," Plocki said. "I just have to
give them so much credit for just
hanging in there."
The Wolverines received contribu-
tions from everyone during their resur-
gence. Senior Janessa Grieco led the
way, while junior Calli Ryals picked
up her end of the leadership responsi-
bilities. Big Ten Freshman of the Year
Jenny Deiley continued to shine, put-
ting together a very impressive season
that included four all-around titles. Her
maturity and work ethic has helped
make her a consistent performer, while
her big meet mentality has given her a
knack for the spectacular.
Becca Clauson progressed nicely
into a solid three-event gymnast, while
Lauren Mirkovich, Kara Rosella and
Chelsea Kroll have all stepped into key
roles. Rosella especially has come a
long way, and Mirkovich has been
impressive in her first college season.
Erica Rubin has stepped up when
needed, and even those who have been
out have been an encouragement.
"I always knew this team would
bounce back," Grieco said. "And hon-
estly, I was happier that we had our
bad days then than at the end of the
Michigan's coaching staff has also
helped to keep the team together.
Assistant coach Scott Sherman has
guided the team through its bar prob-
lems, while Bowers has helped make
the beam one of the Wolverines'
strongest events. Plocki's accomplish-
ments have been extraordinary, lead-
ing yet another team to national
Michigan grew up this season, and -'
grew up quickly. Posting stellar scores
after spring break, the Wolverines went
toe-to-toe with some of the best in the
nation and did their best under the
most intense pressure.
So now, the Wolverines face their
final challenge of the season as they
look forward to Nationals. Michigan is
peaking at the right time - putting
together its best performances under
pressure the last two meets. With a
preliminary draw featuring No. 1
UCLA, No. 5 Alabama, No. 3 Arizona
State and No. 6 Stanford, Michigan
has its work cut out for it to get to the
Super Six. But Plocki has learned to
not count this year's team out.
"In years past, when we've techni- .
cally had more depth and more talent -.::
on paper, my teams have not been as
confident as this team is right now," ...
Plocki said. "If we just pay attention to s ,
ourselves and wait for someone to
open the door for us, we're going to
step through it." .:..:.
Champions are built on the journey s:
to the crown, and the Wolverines REBECCA SAHN/Dai
have certainly had a journey to be Michigan freshman Jenny Delley performs her beam routine at the NCAA Regional
remembered. competition, held Saturday at Crisler Arena.