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April 02, 2004 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily - Friday, April 2, 2004 - 11

Gymnasts to match up with NCAA's best

The Michigan men's gymnastics team heads
back to Champaign this weekend for the NCAA
championships. Last year, the Wolverines took
home fourth place, as well as a national title in
the vault competition. The Daily Sports Writer
Ian Herbert breaks down the Wolverines'
chances to improve on last year 'sfinish, and also
scouts the rest of the nation.
FLOOR EXERCISE:
Michigan: Michigan's Luke Bottke has the
most potential for a strong finish. At the begin-
ning of the season, Michigan coach Kurt Golder
said that Bottke had the potential to be a national
champion in floor. An injury to his wrist slowed
Bottke this year, but look for him to be a force in
the event finals.
Opponents: Illinois sophomore Justin Spring
won the Big Ten floor championship two weeks
ago in Champaign. Expect Spring to ride the
home-crowd advantage to his first NCAA title.
VAULT:
Michigan: When he became the national vault
champion last year, Andrew DiGiore was some-
thing of a dark horse. This year he will be the
favorite. Coach Golder said that one of DiGiore's
vaults might be something that no one else in the
nation can do.
Opponents: Digiore might be the favorite, but
if he stumbles, there will be a handful of gymnasts
ready to step up. Penn State's Steve Tobin placed
second at Big Tens. Also look for Stanford's Dan
Gill or California's Graham Ackerman.
POMMEL HORSE:
Michigan: Golder has described the pommel
horse as the team's "Achilles heel." Justin Laury

is a two-time junior national champion on pom-
mel horse, and has the potential to do the same in
college. But, he hasn't put it together yet.
Opponents: Illinois is the antithesis of Michi-
gan when it comes to pommel horse. Ben New-
man, Robert Rogers and Ted Brown - all from
Illinois - placed first, second and third at the
Big Ten meet. Ben Newman, who scored a 9.800
at the Big Ten meet, is the favorite, but any of
these three could come home with the national
championship. Expect the winner of pommel
horse to be wearing blue and orange.
PARALuL BARS:
Michigan: Junior Geoff Corrigan has been the
only consistently strong Wolverine on parallel bars
this year. Corrigan made the event finals at the Big
Ten meet and came away with an eighth-place fin-
ish. He'll probably do the same this weekend.
Opponents: Penn State's Kevin Tan won the
parallel bars competition at the Big Ten meet,
but he is still not the favorite coming in to this
weekend's competition. Illinois' Justin Spring
and Penn State's Luis Vargas dominated the
Big Ten competition the first day, but both fell
in the finals, opening it up for Tan. Parallel
bars is up for grabs, but one of these three
should win.
STILL RINGS:
Michigan: Laury had the best rings perform-
ance of his collegiate career two weeks ago.
Eddie Umphrey has been the most consistent per-
former on rings for the Wolverines, but a bad
shoulder has given him a lot of trouble in recent
weeks. Both of these guys could make the finals,
and either could place as high as second, but
don't expect it.

Opponents: Tan is the defending national
champion and three-time Big Ten champion on
rings. Army's Brian Lee has a chance, but Tan
probably has it in the bag.
HIGH BAR:
Michigan: Laury has been Michigan's best
gymnast on high bar all year. But in his finals rou-
tine two weeks ago, he hit his face on the bar and
had to get a few stitches. The injury shouldn't
affect his ability to compete, but it remains to be
seen if Laury will be timid in his routine.
Opponents: Iowa's Linas Gaveika is the
reigning national champion, but Oklahoma's
Quinn Rowell and Ohio State's Randy Mona-
han are right on his heels. Gaveika has been
on fire this year, averaging a 9.735 routine.
But he fell during the finals of Big Ten and
placed a disappointing sixth.
TEAM COMPETITION:
Michigan: No. 7 Michigan is in a six-team
pool that includes No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 5 Ohio
State and No. 6 Iowa. Three teams will make it to
the team finals on Saturday. Oklahoma is almost a
lock to make it, but it's going to be a battle for the
second and third spots. Michigan will have to be at
its best to make it, but it has enough talent. Expect
the Wolverines to beat out the Hawkeyes for the
last spot in the finals, but don't expect them to
make much noise once they get there.
Opponents: Illinois is the best team in the
nation, but Oklahoma is the defending nation-
al champion. The Sooners' experience at the
Big Show should give them the edge that they
need to pull off the upset and return to Okla-
homa City with their second-straight national
championship.

Shortstop Jessica Merchant heads into this weekend with a team-leading eleven homeruns.
Michigan feels comfortable
opemg conference season

By Anne Ulble
Daily Sports Writer

Wolverines keep it simple against Minnesota

By Megan Kolodgy
Daily Sports Writer
Michigan baseball's home opener last weekend
looked like a walk in the park for the Wolverines,
as the Wolverines ganged up on Detroit and Oak-
land for large, ego-boosting wins.
This weekend could be a different story.
Michigan will return to The Fish on Friday for
its first game of its Big Ten schedule against Min-
nesota (10-8). Although the Golden Gophers are
the defending conference champions and the pre-
season pick to win this year, Michigan coach
Rich Maloney believes that, ready or not, it is
time for his team to get the show on the road.
"We're going to play an outstanding team in
Minnesota," Maloney said. "We're going to have
to play well to win. Certainly, we don't take the
team for granted, and we're ready to see what
we've got. It's a great time right now to see where
our program's at."
Maloney recognizes the Wolverines' weakness-
es, and is quick to name off a litany of drills and
techniques that they have spent time on this week.
He thinks, if Michigan sticks to the fundamentals,
it will come out on top this weekend.
"This can be a really complex game,' Maloney

said. "But sometimes, it's pretty simple. If you
throw strikes, and don't walk many guys, you
play solid defense, you'll probably hold them
down to a reasonable number of runs. And if you
don't strike out on the offensive end, and you get
some runs when you get the opportunity, and get
timely hits, you'll probably end up playing a great
game of baseball."
It may take more than that to overcome the
powerful Minnesota squad. The Golden Gophers
feature the current Big Ten Player of the week,
shortstop Matt Fornasiere. In last weekend's Iowa
classic, the sophomore batted .778 and drove in
seven runs in three games. In the 11 th inning
against Northern Illinois, he came in as a pinch
hitter, and supplied the game-winning single in
the Gophers' 5-4 victory.
Although Michigan's record currently sits at
.500, it reached that point by playing mediocre
teams. Maloney believes that these wins,
although minor in stature, provide the Wolverines
with some much-needed self-assurance.
"I definitely think that any time you win
games, it's a confidence booster," Maloney said.
"With the young program we have right now, we
need to have success. I think the games against

Detroit were exactly what we needed."
This week, Michigan was able to accomplish
something that had evaded it thus far this season.
"This was the first full week that we could
practice outside, so we've played a lot of simulat-
ed games," Maloney said. "We've really been
preparing to play baseball outdoors. Our guys
needed to see how to knock the ball off the bat."
Even if Michigan is not able to pull out wins
this weekend, Maloney wants his Wolverines to
see that these games are only the beginning, and
that a great deal of the season remains.
"With these four games, well if you think
about it, it's just one game at a time," Maloney
said. "Each game is 1/32 of the season as far as
the Big Ten season is concerned. These four
games all count the same (as the others) if you
think about it."
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Most people would assume that the opening
of the Big Ten season for most teams produces
a certain amount of stress. While nonconfer-
ence games can be lost without destroying a
team's ability to attend championships, it's not
the case with conference competition. But the
No. 11 Michigan softball team opens confer-
ence play this weekend with less stress than
most squads.
Having already competed against four top-10
teams earlier this season, including No. 1
UCLA and No. 5 Florida State, the Wolverines
are prepared for any competition that might
come their way.
"I think it gave us an opportunity to try a lot
of different lineups and give all our pitchers
some good experience," Michigan coach Carol
Hutchins said. "There were some tough teams,
but I think they made us stronger. But its like I
always say, 'Nothing changes about the game
except your perception of it."'
This weekend, the team opens up its Big Ten
schedule with a game against Indiana (19-16)
today and Saturday, and it continues on Sunday
with a doubleheader against Purdue (21-10).
"Big Ten games are always intense,"
Hutchins said. "There is always something on
the line. Most years it comes down to the last
game of the season to see which team wins the
championship. Every game counts."
Michigan holds an 11-10 all-time record in
Big Ten openers. It has lost its last two confer-
ence debuts, falling to Illinois last season and
Penn State in 2002. Both of those losses took
place in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines do, howev-
er, hold a 14-7 all-time record for Big Ten road
openers and have won six straight, three of
which have come against the Hoosiers. Even

with history on her side, Hutchins is hesitant to
make assumptions about certain teams because
she believes every Big Ten team will put up a
good fight when it comes down to game time.
"The Big Ten opener is like our second sea-
son;" Hutchins said. "Our goal is to win the Big
Ten Championships this year, but I think my
toughest job will be keeping the team focused
enough to do it. We must maintain clear minds
for every game, and try not to worry about stuff
we can't control because we can't control any-
thing until game time."
In preparation for this weekend's games, the
team has been focusing primarily on aggres-
sively hitting the outside pitch and strengthen-
ing the defense at the corners this week.
"We've had some great practices this week,"
Hutchins said. "It's obvious that our players are
going to step it up for the games."
While Hutchins has been impressed by
the performances of most of her players, she
has been most pleased with the improve-
ment made this season by junior shortstop
Jessica Merchant.
Merchant was named Big Ten Player of the
Week last week for the second time this season,
hitting .571 and slugging an unbelievable 2.143
for the week. In just seven official at-bats for
the week, she had three home runs and a triple.
Her 15 total bases on just four hits helped the
Wolverines extend their winning streak to eight
with doubleheader sweeps over Bowling Green
and Valparaiso last week.
While Merchant is excited about having
already hit 11 homeruns this season - a total
that puts her on target for breaking Michigan's
all-time homerun record - the shortstop says
that she never plans ahead for hitting them.
"If it happens, it happens," Merchant said.
"I'll try to get on base or bunt; anything my
team needs me to do to win."

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