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6B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - March 1, 2004

Former Olympian Ray

grows up' a

J. BRADY MCCOLLOUGH
The SportsMonday column
Elise Ray's life has undergone a
drastic makeover since she cap-
tained the U.S. women's gymnas-
tics team in the 2000 Olympics.
She's a student at Michigan. She
doesn't need to go to the gym to hang
out with friends. She's got a boyfriend.
You can see the biggest difference in
her floor routine, where the change isn't
in her style.
It's in her smile.
"Gymnastics is not my life anymore,"
Ray said. "It's so different, but in such a
~wonderful way."
But, even with the separation of more
than three years and a new life here in
Ann Arbor, all it takes is one mention of
her 14th-place finish in the all-around
finals or her team's fourth-place finish
to send her right back to the Sydney
SuperDome, where her 12 years.of
sweat and tears culminated.
Watching her describe the experi-
ence, it seems like she's feeling every
emotion all over again: the unspoken
pressure of living up to the "golden
girls" of 1996, who became the first
U.S. team to win the gold. The pain of a
dislocated shoulder suffered during the
first day of team competition. The fear
of a blown vault ruining her chance at
Olympic glory. The disappointment of
not being able to recover from her ini-
tial failure on the vault, which somehow
was not set to the correct height.
"Ughhh," Ray moaned while think-
ing about the unlikelihood of the
Olympic officials screwing up such key
measurements. "They had the equip-
ment wrong, so I fell, and it absolutely
stripped me of any motivation. I
thought I was done."
Everything Ray had been doing since
she was 6 led up to that moment. In
junior high, she and her parents made
the decision to join "Hill's Angels" an
elite group of gymnasts coached by the
renowned Kelli Hill.
But this was not work befitting of an
angel. Ray spent seven hours a day in
the gym -6 to 7:30 in the morning
and five more hours after school (that
doesn't count the 45-minute drives to
Hill's and back to her home in Colum-
bia, Md.). There were monthly trips to
Texas for training camps - not quite
the same as a family vacation.
"It gets hard, and your body hurts, and
you're sick of being at the gym, and you
want to go on vacation, but you can't,"
Ray said. "But I wouldn't change all the

it Michigan
sacrifice for anything in the world."
Even though Ray and her teammates
in Sydney became the first U.S. team
without a medal in 30 years, she hasn't
let it sour her memories.
"I don't need to have a medal around
my neck to capture the whole Olympic
experience," Ray said.
"An internal battle"
Ray rested for three months after the
Olympics and joined Michigan for the
winter stretch of the 2000-01 season,
having no idea what to expect. What
she found was a more relaxed atmos-
phere than what she'd known at Hill's or
in Olympic competition. Two- or three-
hour practices. Music blasting. Team-
mates who were wholeheartedly behind
her. As Ray put it, everything about it
was great, but she didn't know what to
make of it.
"It was hard for her to open up and
trust the people around her," Michigan
coach Bev Plocki said. "(The Olympic
experience) is so individual. We wanted
to say that all of that is behind you. We
really care about you. You can trust us."
Gymnastics was suddenly supposed
to be all about fun. But during her first
year, Ray was still in her "zone," intense
and focused as she had been all along.
The older girls on the team tried to
show her the way. Elise, calm down,
chill out. Itsjust a meet.
"She was putting a lot of pressure on
herself," Plocki said. "She didn't look
forward to coming to the gym."
Ray tied for the all-around national
championship her freshman year
because she was still at her Olympic
level. In her sophomore year, further
removed from the training at Hill's, she
began to notice the dramatic drop-off
from Olympic gymnastics to college
competition. For someone who spent her
entire life trying to be the best in the
world, it was hard to settle for anything
less, even being the best college gymnast
in the nation.
"The Olympic level was the ideal
level for any gymnast," Ray explained.
"Now I come to college, and it was very
different, a lower level. My routines
were easier. It was less time. It was hard
for me because of the realization of
where I was and what caliber of-gym-
nastics I used to be at compared to now.
It was an internal battle for me, telling
myself it was OK not to be at that level."
"An eye-opener"
After two years of figuring out how
to get the most out of college gymnas-
tics, Ray suffered a shoulder injury
before the beginning of her junior cam-
paign. She was forced to redshirt and
sat out the entire season.
"It really sucked," Ray said bluntly.
Ray accepted that she wouldn't be
able to physically help her team, and it

By Jeremy Antar
Daily Sports Writer
In front of 3,743 fans at Crisler
Arena on Friday, the No. 13 Michigan
women's gymnastics team came up on
the losing end of a close match versus
No. 2 University of Georgia 197.000-
196.300. Junior
Elise Ray shined
for Michigan, cap-
turing first place
on the uneven bars and the floor exer-
cise and earning second place in the
overall competition.
Michigan began the meet on the
vault. Freshman Clare Flannery opened
the scoring with a 9.725. Freshman
Carol McNamara followed with a
9.700, and sophomore Becca Clauson
earned a 9.675. Senior Christine Man-
tilia and sophomore Jenny Deiley
closed out the event strongly with
scores of 9.825 and 9.875, respectively.
Georgia opened on the uneven bars,
earning a team score of 49.200 that
gave the Bulldogs a lead they would
never relinquish.
The highlight of the meet for Michi-
gan came on the floor exercise, during
which the Wolverines out-dueled Geor-
gia's No. 1 floor exercise team. Four
Michigan athletes set or tied season-
high marks on the floor exercise. Clau-
son earned a 9.825, while McNamara
and Mantilia each landed a score of
9.850. Freshman Lindsey Bruck then
captured a 9.900, setting up Ray, who
closed out the competition with bril-
liant execution and a score of 9.925.
The team total of 49.350 was just
enough to squeak past the 49.300 put
forth by Georgia.
Overall, coach Bev Plocki said she
was not very pleased with the team's

performance. She noted that in almost
every event there were one or two
mishaps which forced the Wolverines
to count a score that was lower than
what the team would have liked.
Plocki also attributes the loss to
problems the team had with sticking
its dismounts. She said the team as a
whole has been taking too many lit-
tle steps after a landing, which has
led to costly point deductions.
Another source of error was on the
balance beam.
"There are a lot of things we need to
clean up," Plocki said. "We need to get
back to the quality of the beam work we
had at the beginning of the season. We
have to do more dismounts off beam,
more vaults with stuck landings."
A recurring problem for Michigan
throughout the season has also been
fighting off injuries. On Friday, senior
Calli Ryals was able to compete in
just one event. Ryals, who is one of
Michigan's most consistent perform-
ers, suffered an injury at West Vir-
ginia on Feb. 22.
"Calli has a strain right now, and we
thought she would be ready to go on
bars and beam, but she landed kind of
short in warm-ups, and it was bother-
ing her," Plocki said.
"It kind of put Kara (Rosella) in a
tough position, because we had to put
her in without much notice."
Michigan hopes to get back on
track next weekend when it travels to
UCLA to take on the No. 1 ranked
Bruins. While UCLA promises to be
a difficult match, Plocki has confi-
dence in her team and knows what it
is capable of.
"We've got the talent to be great,"
Plocki said. "I believe we can compete
with anybody in the country."

Injuries, lack of depth
hurt in gymnasts'loss

0

Elise Ray is all smiles during her fourth year at Michigan.

took just a day for her to find a new
role. Ray's best friend, junior Chelsea
Kroll, clearly remembers when Ray
came into the gym the day after her
injury and gave the team maize-and-
blue beaded bracelets with inspirational
quotes attached to them.
"I took the next night and day to do
some soul searching," Ray said. "I
wanted to let them know I was OK, that
I wanted to be there for them."
Ray took on a coaching role last sea-
son, using her immense knowledge to
help her teammates. Kroll said that then-
freshman Becca Clauson refused to per-
form at the NCAA Championships
without Ray on the floor to support her.
"Mentally, she was such a spirit for
us," Kroll said.
"The girls saw what her value was in
something other than just her perform-
ance," Plocki said.
The days of dreading training were
long gone. Throughout the entire sea-
son, Ray "craved" to be out there prac-
ticing, struggling with her teammates
every day.
"It was an eye-opener that I was still
so passionate about the sport," Ray said.
"I could have been like, 'I really like this
down time,' but I missed it so much. It
really made me fired up for this year."
Ray and Kroll were named co-cap-

tains for this season and, unlike her stint
as captain of Team USA, this one is
fully about the team. Ray's goal is to
lead the program to its first team
national championship, either this year
or next. But for the moment, Ray just
appreciates being able to perform again.
"I really see daily in the gym that
there's a much higher level of enjoy-
ment for her," Plocki said. "In her fresh-
man year, it was a job - a duty."
There's no doubt Ray missed out on
being a "normal kid" during high
school, but as she puts it, "What do you
do in high school?
"It's cool I missed out on that."
It's "cool" because Ray is making up
for it at Michigan. She gets to go out
with her friends whenever she wants,
and she has been dating her boyfriend
for almost a year now.
"I grew up in college," Ray said.
"I never had any of that before I
came here."
Kroll, giggling the giggle Ray had
previously missed out on, said Ray's
current relationship is "serious stuff."
Maybe it's because gymnastics isn't
so serious anymore.
J Brady McCollough can be reached at
bradymcc@umich.edu.

EUGENE ROBERTSON/Daily
Freshman Lindsey Bruck posted a 9.9 on the floor exercise, helping Michigan
outduel the nation's top-ranked floor team, but it wasn't enough to win the meet.

'M' Nine still searching for right ingredients

By Ryan Sosin
Daily Sports Writer

Food Network cooking show host Emeril Lagasse
always talks about three things: using the right
ingredients, using those ingredients in the right
order to maximize potency and finding the perfect
consistency. For Michigan base-
ball coach Rich Maloney, the
ingredients are there. The hard
part is finding the right order m
and consistency.
The Wolverines (0-5) spent the
weekend in Florida at the New
York Mets training facility, tak-
ing on the University of Illinois-
Chicago in a three game series.
"It was like being in a big league (spring training)
camp," junior catcher Jeff Kunkel said.
Michigan held leads in the first two games of the
weekend, but thanks to some inconsistent play, found
itself in the losing column all weekend.
"It's hard to look really big until you've won some
games." Maloney said. "To get over the hump, we
are going to have to have some success."
Maloney continually tinkered with his lineup
over the weekend, putting forth a different look
each day. The weekend had many notable individual
performances. Yesterday's 13-1 shellacking saw
junior Nick Rudden go 2-for-3 in the two spot. Dur-

ing Saturday's 4-3 extra innings loss, freshman
Brad Roblin moved up from number two into the
leadoff spot and went 2-for-4. And Friday's 7-4
series-opening loss came on a day when Kunkel
pounded out a perfect 4-for-4 performance.
"During our nonconference games, we are going
to play a lot of guys," Maloney said. "We are going
to try and figure out what the right lineup is and get
the right pitchers in at the right times."
Yesterday's performance was not what coach
Maloney was hoping to see after a close loss Satur-
day. The Wolverines didn't put up much of a fight,
notching one run on six hits. The game was sealed
for the Flames when Mike Hughes drilled a Phil
Tognetti pitch into the stands with the bases loaded
in the fourth to put Illinois Chicago ahead 8-1.
Saturday's contest looked like it could be Michigan's
first win. After Michigan battled back from a 2-0
deficit when sophomore A.J. Scheidt scored in the fifth
off of a throwing error, the teams remained deadlocked
at two heading into extra innings. In the top of the
tenth, the Wolverines found themselves on top after
Rudden's RBI single to drove in junior Matt Butler.
Michigan failed to widen their lead following a
two-out single off the bat of junior Kyle Bohm.
Bohm watched the Flames left fielder, Shane Crow-
der, chase his ball, as Chris Getz was storming
home, but Crowder's throw to the plate beat Getz and
the rally was stifled before Michigan could add an
insurance run.

Illinois-Chicago tied the game up in the bottom
half of the frame on a Crowder RBI. In the bottom of
the 11th, inconsistency prevailed, as a wild pitch
from Michigan freshman Andrew Hess got past the
catcher, Kunkel, allowing the Flames' Jordan DeVoir
to steal a run and the game.
"I'm very confident in these guys," Maloney said.
"I believe that we will settle things down here."
Despite falling short in all three games, the
Wolverines did enjoy some positives. Kunkel, who
is in his first season as starting catcher, leads the
team with a .539 batting average.
After allowing a pair of runners he inherited from
junior Bobby Garza to score, sophomore Derek Feld-
kamp looked sharp Friday. He gave up just one run
of his own in 4 2/3 innings of work.
On Saturday, junior Michael Penn turned in the
best performance from a starting pitcher this year, as
he yielded just three base runners, two of whom
scored, in five innings of work.
"We have a lot of talented pitchers," Kunkel said.
"That's going to be a strong suit for us."
Inconsistencies have played a major role in the
Wolverines' less than desirable start. With the
pitchers yielding too many big innings, Mal-
oney's small ball lineup has struggled to play
from behind.
"When you start from behind, and you know
you're not a big offensive team, you really put your-
self in a bind," Maloney said.

TONY DING/Daily
Junior Michael Penn turned In one of the strongest performances by a Michigan
pitcher in Florida last weekend, allowing just three base runners in five innings.

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