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January 28, 2013 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-01-28

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28 - Monday, January 2$, 2013

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

28- ona, anay 8,213Th icignDaly-_ihiadalyo

The best team you've never seen

c risler Center is home
to three teams. Those
teams are a combined
24-3 in the friendly and reno-
vated confines this year. That's
pretty neat.
You know about the men's
basketball team. You know
about the women's basketball
team, too. But have you taken
a visit4o the Crisler when
the hardwood is lifted, when.
mats and beams and bars are
sprawled across the arena floor?
Probably
not.
Well, let
me tell you
about that
third team
at Crisler.
It's one to be
proud of. It's
the Michigan STEPHEN J.
women's NESBITT
gymnastics
program,
currently No. 1 in the land, and
its success is no fluke.
Still, the gymnastics team is,
for my money, the most over-
looked varsity team on campus.
Meet Bev Plocki.
Her resume lists but one pro-
fessional job - head coach of
the Michigan women's gymnas-
tics program. Plocki took the
helm in Ann Arbor as a 23-year-
old former All-American and
hasn't budged in the last 23
years.
The program she inherited in
1989 was something of a train
wreck.
Michigan was coming off
a 2-19 season and had never
fielded an All-American in the
team's 16-year history.
As a Butler, Pa. native, Ala-
bama graduate and former
graduate assistant at West Vir-
ginia, Plocki - ne Beverly Fry
- had no ties to Michigan or its
suffering women's gymnastics
program.
Early on, she met Jim Plocki,
a strength and conditioning
coach for the Michigan football
and ice hockey teams. The two
hit it off, eventually married
and decided to stay in Ann
Arbor.
And the Michigan commu-
nity should thank its lucky stars
that they did.
A team isn't always hard
to build, buta program is. It
means changing tradition,
changing culture, changing
expectations. And Plocki did it
in two years.
Plocki turned a two-win
team into a 7-15 team in her first
year, then 13-12 the next. Then
the streak began. Michigan won
five consecutive Big Ten titles,
took second in 1998, won seven
more, took fourth in 2006 and
won five more before finishing
fourth again last year.
That's 18 Big Ten titles in 21
years. That's absurd consis-
tency, isn't it? Let's compare
it to the other teams housed
in Crisler: before last year, the
men's basketball team hadn't
won an outright title since 1986,
and the women's basketball
team has never won one.

0

RUBY WALLAU/Daily RoBY
Senior Katie Zurales, a three-time All-American, helps lead She Na. 1 eymoastics team in the nation. Michigan coach Bev Plocki has held sl one jab, asd is in her 23rd year at the helm of the

As for her coaching quali-
fications, Plocki has won
everything buta national cham-
pionship, and that could be just
around the corner - Michigan
has been runner-up twice. She
has coached six All-Americans,
been named Big Ten coach of
the year 10 times and NCAA
national coach of the year once.
So, I ask, what's kept you
away from Crisler?
The then-No. 2 Michigan
women's gymnastics team post-
ed a 197.350 in its last competi-
tion at Crisler. That might not
mean much to you, but it's the
highest team total since 2008.
A night earlier, No. 6 Ala-

bama squared off against LSU
at Coleman Coliseum in Tus-
caloosa, Ala. Plocki knows the
Crimson Tide quite well: you'll
remember, Alabama is her alma
mater. She understands the
tradition. She understands that
gymnastics just means some-
thing different there.
But she probably didn't
expect this disparity.
Michigan had just 2,114 seats
filled at Crisler. Alabama had a
recorded attendance of 13,912
- higher even than the capacity
of Crisler. A week later, 15,075
were on hand to watch the
Crimson Tide.
That's just a whole different
baligame.
It's easy to see why an elite
recruit would relish an oppor-

tunity to compete at Alabama,
live on TV and in front of sell-
out crowds.
But it begs the question, how
can the Wolverines, with a
roster that lists just one Michi-
gan native, pull in the caliber
of recruits year after year to
remain a national title con-
tender?
Plocki tries to keep the
answer short.
"Until we can get to a point
where we can get that many
people coming to our competi-
tions, it's really a matter of sell-
ing Michigan," she said.
"If you are an individual who
wants the dog-and-pony show,
then Michigan's not the right
place for you to go to school
anyway. You need to be coming

to school here because you're
serious about your education,
you want to get the most valu-
able degree that's available
to you and you want to have a
great experience."
You probably think every
coach claims to sell the educa-
tion. And they do. But there's
something different about gym-
nastics.
"Stereotypically, gymndsts
are very good students, good
time managers," Plocki admit-
ted.
If you think about it, a career
in gymnastics has about the
shortest career span out there.
Gymnastics isn't a profession
for hardly anyone. You're not
going to be competing at 28, so
it only makes sense to sell Mich-

Despite loss, Wolverines turn in
their best performance of year

igan, to sell the education.
The largest circuit is the
Olympics, where gymnastics
truly thrives.and consistently
earns some of the highest view-
ership of the Olympic Games.
But if you're in college, you're
probably past your prime for
international competition, so
selecting a college isn't an ath-
letics decision as much as it is a
career decision.
"We feel like we can offer the
package between the national
championship-caliber athletic
program and the Ivy League-
quality education," Plocki said.
While she didn't hesitate to
praise the dedication of the fans
that do trickle into the Crisler
Center for competitions, Plocki
did admit that finding ways
to fill seats is still a work in
progress. Huge banners are up
around Briarwood Mall, a few
miles from campus, showing an
athlete or two and the season
schedule.
It's hard to attract that atten-
tion.
"We continually strive to get
the word out," Plocki said. "If
people develop an interest in
wanting to come out and check
out the sport of women's gym-
nastics, they'll see why there
are 13,000 people who go to a
gym meet in Alabama, Utah,
Georgia.
"It's really a fabulous event,
These athletes are genuinely
athletes, and the things that
they do are pretty incredible.
It's just a great sport and if you
come once you typically really
enjoy it and want to continue to
come back."
So, surprise yourself and
give ita chance, make your way
down on a Friday night. It'll be
worth your time.
It's tough to get out of the
shadows at Michigan, but there
just might be enough room for
two No. 1s at Crisler.
- Nesbitt can be reached
at stnesbit@umich.edu and on
Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt.

By CINDY YU
For The Daily
On Saturday night, the -No. 1
Michigan women's gymnastics
team showed consistency and
improvement by recording its
best road score of the season.
"What we're doing currently
is working really well for us,"
said sophomore Sachi Sugiya-
ma. "I couldn't ask for a better
team."
Michigan finished runner-
up at the quad meet hosted at
the Minnesota Sports Pavilion
by a close margin, losing to No.
12 Minnesota, 196.800-196.775.
No. 20 Central Michigan and
Iowa State finished third and
fourth, respectively.
"I am very proud of this
team," said Michigan coach
Bev Plocki. "I actually thought
that this might have been the
best performance of the season
so far, even though the score

didn't reflect it."
The captains - junior Joan-
na Sampson and senior Katie
Zurales - led 'the team with
second- and third-place finish-
es in the all-around. Sampson
also took first in the uneven
bars while Zurales tied for sec-
ond on the balance beam.
The Wolverines started the
meet with an impressive 49.100
on the uneven bars, and per-
formed strongly despite a fall
from freshman Lindsay Wil-
liams.
The other five Michigan
gymnasts recorded scores of
9.800 or better, dropping Wil-
liams' 9.225 out of contention.
Sampson led with a 9.850 while
Sugiyama and senior Brittnee
Martinez tied for second with
9.825s. Junior Shelby Gies and
Zurales followed with a pair of
9.800s.
Michigan recorded another
49.100 on the balance beam for

a team total of 93.200 - tying
it with Minnesota for the early
lead. Gies and Zurales scored
identically yetagain for second-
place finishes on beam with
9.850's. Junior Reema Zakharia
was added to the beam lineup
for the first time this season,
and her score of 9.775 tied her
career best.
After earning a 49.250 on
the floor exercise, the Wolver-
ines pulled ahead of the Golden
Gophers by a slim 0.100 points
going into the final rotation.
Sugiyama led the team with a
9.875 followed by 9.850's from
Sampson, Zurales, and Zakhar-
ia.
In the final rotation, Michi-
gan scored a season-best 49.325
on the vault, highlighted by
Sugiyama capturing the event
title.
"(Sugiyama) did all solid
events and topped it off by
sticking the landing on her

vault," Plocki said. "She nailed
it cold. Ina meet that was being
judged rigorously, her vault
was that good that they had to
give it a 9.950."
Zurales added a 9.875 on the
vault, while freshman Briley
Casanova and Sampson con-
tributed 9.825s.
"The team was determined
and they knew the meet was
very close," Plocki said. "They
stepped up and had their best
performance (on vault)."
Despite finishing the meet
on a high note, the Wolverines
were unable to hold on to their
lead after Minnesota posted
the top-five floor exercise
scores of the meet and recorded
a season-best 49.450 - narrow-
ly edging Michigan out.
"We did really, really well,"
Sugiyama said. "You know the
scoring was kind of tight, but
we deserved every tenth we
got."

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Michigan breaks records, drowns Sparty

By SHANNON LYNCH
Daily Sports Writer
EAST LANSING - When
junior Angie Chokran jumpJed
into McCaffree Pool for the first
time at Michigan State, she knew
her family was right there on
deck to motivate her. And by fam-
ily, she meant her 35 teammates
that make up the No. 25 Michigan
women's swimming and diving
team.
Most families like to relax
on Friday nights - whether it's
hanging out at home, falling
asleep on the couch or enjoying a
worry-free evening. But this fam-
ily had a very different agenda.
Mike Bottom - the father, if
you will - was looking for more
than just a victory out of his team:
he wanted to break records. The
Wolverines gave him just that,
outscoring the Spartans 174-120
and shattering four pool records.
Before the team was even able
to jump in the pool for warm-up,

Bottom and his coaching staff
gave his team what they like to
call a "sudden change," and the
meet suddenly became about
more than perfecting skills, tech-
niques and speeds.
It became a game.
"The coaches start looking
at the recordv
board," Chokran
said. "I was like,
'What are you
doing?' They
made this game
out of this meet
and said, 'What
do we love to do?-
We love watch-
ing people break records.'
Added Bottom: "You can see
it's an old facility; it's got alot of
history, which is something I
try to talk up. Those records are
really old, right? They've been,
around for a while, so it's a moti-
vating setting for us as a Michi-
gan team."
McCaffree Pool was built in

1959, and many of the records
held in that facility date back 30
years or more.
The Wolverines took their
coach's challenge to heart, start-
ing off the meet with a victory in
the 400-yard medley relay. They
continued their success through-
out the night,
finishing with
victories in 13 of
16 races and four
pool records in
the 100/200-yard
backstroke and
100/200-yard
breaststroke.
Chokran earned
the latter two records, with times
of 1:01.28 and 2:15.05 respectively.
Chokran's accomplishments
have greatly contributed to the
success of her team. She's cur-
rently the third-ranked, 200-yard
breaststroker and seventh-ranked
100-yard breaststroker in the Big
Ten. Last week, she was named
Big Ten Swimmer of the Week, in

addition to winning three events
on Jan. 18, contributing to the win
over Ohio State.
"I couldn't have done what
I did today without (my team-
mates) behind me every step
of the way and throughout this
week," Chokran said. "Like I said,
the training was more important
and I had people pushing me
every single day."
The victory against Michigan
State was a family victory and
wins in the relay heats showed
the versatility and strength of a
range of Michigan swimmers,
including freshmen Ali Deloof,
Zoe Mattingly and senior Deidre
Jones, whose participation in the
400-yard medley relay and 200-
yard freestyle relay led to two
first-place spots.
"We were only a tenth off in
both relays, which is even more
special to me because that means
our team is coming along," Bot-
tom said. "We have a lot of young
girls so we're excited."

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