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April 05, 2013 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Friday, April S, 2013 - 7A

Wilson dangerous at safety

Blue readies
for rivalry

By LIZ VUKELICH
Daily Sports Editor
Redshirt junior quarterback
Devin Gardner has been picked
off a few times by the safeties dur-
ing the Michigan football team's
spring practice, though he's too
embarrassed to talk about it.
Even if he's ashamed to admit
it, Gardner still acknowledges
his picks mean
the safeties NOTEBOOK
are effectively
doing their job in reading his
passes. And one in particular is
gettingincreasingly better atthat.
Sophomore Jarrod Wilson has
been pegged with the difficult
task of replacing Jordan Kovacs at
safety alongside fifth-year senior
Thomas Gordon, and throughout
the spring he has continued to
solidify his spot as the presumed
starter.
For defensive coordinator Greg
Mattison, the most impressive
thing about Wilson during spring
ball is the fact that he's still peak-
ing.
"He's a very consistent football
player," Mattison said. "A lot of
times young guys will show you
the flashes of why you recruited
them, and then you'll see, 'Oh
man, he's stepped back.' This
guy's continued to improve."
Wilson calls himself a "student
of the game." He has books full of
notes and spends countless hours
watching film both during prac-
tices and when he returns to his
dorm at the end of the day.
Even with all the extra work
he puts in, Wilson might consider
himself first and foremost a stu-
dent of Kovacs.
The former captain has been in
and out of Ann Arbor this winter,
dropping by Schembechler Hall
periodically for workouts, and
though Wilson really hasn't had
the opportunity to pick Kovacs's
brain, the year he spent observ-
ing Kovacs while on reserve has
given him insight into the kind of
safety he's striving to be.
"His instincts and what to

Junior defensive end Frank Clark is part of a deep rotation of pass rushers. Michigan has enough depth to keep fresh

expect even before the play has
even started," Wilson said of
what he's picked up by watch-
ing Kovacs. "He could come out
and tell you what the offense was
going to run due to line splits,
wide-receiver splits, quarterback
and everything. I pretty much
learned pre-snap reads from
him."
I MOUSTACHE YOU ABOUT
THE O-LINE: Though he gets
along with everyone on the team,
sophomore tight end Devin
Funchess isn't quite sure where
he fits in with the rest of the
offensive linemen.
"I can't hang out with the line-
men because I can't grow facial
hair," Funchess joked. "I'm just a
young lad."
Funchess was referring to the
moustaches that the linemen
are growing as a form of solidar-
ity. And though he's just kidding
about not being able to associate
with them, his observations on
the solidarity of the offensive line
are very real.
That chemistry is what's hold-
ing the line together throughout
spring practices, and it's what
offensive coordinator Al Borges

hopes will translate to effective-
ness when the season starts.
"It's a lot of awareness, a
lot of chemistry, hearing calls,
responding to the calls, stepping
right," Borges said. "There's not
a heck of a lot of margin for error
sometimes. That takes time. It's
just not something that happens
right away."
Off-the-field brunch trips to
Benny's Family Dining aside,
the offensive line seems unusu-
ally cohesive on the field this
spring after it struggled as a unit.
Though the line will no doubt
benefit from the leadership of
fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor
Lewan after his decision to forgo
the NFL Draft, Michigan also has
has a veteran in fifth-year senior
right tackle Michael Schofield.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant
will compete with redshirt fresh-
man Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden
for the guard position. Early on,
Kalis seems to be the favorite.
Redshirt sophomore Jack Mill-
er is the presumed startingcenter,
and Borges anticipates the past
two years Miller spent watching
former Wolverines David Molk
and Elliott Mealer will ease his

transition.
"Jack's smart, he'll do fine,"
Borges said. "He won't make very
many errors. Now the center a lot
of times puts the whole line on the
right page, so to speak. Jack had
played enough. Jack does a pretty
good job of doing that."
RUSH HOUR: Since Mattison
arrived at Michigan two years
ago, he's had a dream: Soon, he
hopes the day will come when he
doesn't want his defensive line-
men to blitz on a third down.
The vision? That the Wolver-
ines' pass rush is effective enough
that linemen can take care of the
quarterback all on their own.
Mattison admitted that in the
past, Michigan has struggled
with the pass rush in a four-man
front. But now, with the linemen
setting themselves apart and
makingstrides this spring, Matti-
son's optimistic that day isn't too
far away.
"That's going to be a trademark
of this defense before we're all
done," Mattison said. "That gives
the linebackers and the second-
ary a little more relief and allows
them to play their position a little
better."

By ERIN LENNON
Daily Sports Writer
Oh, what a difference a year
makes.
Last season, the then-No. 20
Michigan softball team stumbled
into Columbus after an unchar-
acteristically slow start to the
season. The Wolverines began
Big Ten play hitting just .249 as a
team. Meanwhile, Ohio State was
riding an eight-game winning
streak heading into the matchup.
Despite a hostile crowd at Buck-
eye Field, the Wolverines complet-
ed the three-game sweep in what
was their best performance of the
season. The offense totaled a sea-
son-high 16 hits in an 11-4 win over
the Buckeyes in the first game of a
doubleheader on Saturday before
taking a 6-4 decision in the second
contest to complete the sweep.
It was a weekend that secured
sole position of first place atop the
Big Ten for the Wolverines, and
they never looked back.
This season, the 12th-ranked
Wolverines (6-0 Big Ten, 28-7
overall) will head into rivalry
weekend riding a 10-game win-
ning streak of their own.
Meanwhile, Ohio State (3-3,
21-11) heads to Alumni Field hav-
ing lost two of its last three games
in a home series to Purdue. The
Buckeyes have been plagued by
poor pitching of late. Junior right-
hander Melanie Nichols, one of
the staff's top performers last year,
struggled in non-conference play
and has seen less time in the circle
as a result.
And the Buckeyes' pitching
staff will not want to face the
Michigan offense.
With a red-hot offense that has
produced 62 runs at Alumni Field
through six games, the Wolver-
ines remain perfect in Big Ten
play. Consistency throughout the
lineup has earned a young Michi-

gan team 13 wins in its last 15
games dating back to early March.
The weekend will be the first
rivalry experience for seven
Michigan freshmen. Shortstop
Sierra Romero and outfielder
Sierra Lawrence - both recently
named to the USA Softball Junior
Women's National Team - will be
key features of the offense against
Ohio State pitching. Romero has
been the Wolverines' most pro-
ductive power hitter with 14
home runs and 38 RBI. Of late,
Lawrence has secured her spot in
the starting lineup. In the home
opener against Purdue, Lawrence
went 4-for-9 and is batting .341 on
the season when batting from the
last spot.
"(The rivalry) doesn't intimi-
date me," Lawrence said. "It's still
just one-pitch softball."
As the last team besides Michi-
gan to win an outright Big Ten
title, the Buckeyes represent some
of the tougher competition the
Wolverines will face this season.
Ohio State boasts five players hit-
ting above .300 and returns sev-
eral experienced pitchers to the
lineup.
But if the Wolverines should
be nervous, someone forgot to tell
Michigan coach Carol Hutchins.
"I don't care about anybody
else," Hutchins said. "I only care
about us. I don't care about Ohio
State. It doesn't matter who you
play, you play to win.
"I don't even scout them that
much. It's the game of softball.
Pick up the ball and throw it. Pitch
it, catch it, hit it. It doesn't really
change that much."
In last year's series, senior co-
captain Nicole Sappingfield was
6-for-9 - including a 4-for-4
Saturday - with three RBI. Like
several other Wolverines, Sap-
pingfield has caught fire of late,
improving her batting average to
.357.

Fearing the beam but preparing for pressure at Regionals

By CINDY YU The No. 5 Michigan women's
Daily Sports Writer gymnastics team (12-2 Big Ten,
23-2 overall) learned that lesson
Performance on the balance at the Big Ten Championships on
beam distinguishes the best from March 23, when it relinquished its
the merely great lead to No. 8 Nebraska after scor-
in women's ing a 49.000 - the Wolverines'
gymnastics. In NCAA second-lowest beam score of the
the postseason Regional season - on the final rotation.
particularly, Returning to West Virginia on
beam is often When: Sat- Saturday evening to compete in
the deciding urday 6 p.m. the NCAA Morgantown Regional,
factor for which Where: WVU the Wolverines have luck on their
team is crowned Coliseum, side and a shot at redemption. Not
national cham- Morgantown, only will they be competing in
pion. W.Va. Olympic order- vault, bars,beam,
"We call TV: floor - and thus, not starting or
beam the great WVUSports. ending on beam, but they will also
equalizer," said com be familiar with the equipment
Michigan coach and meet format since they won
Bev Plocki. "You a quad meet earlier this season at
can be the No. 1 team in the coun- the WVU Coliseum. Placed in the
try, but if you have a bad beam day, same regional location, Michi-
it can cost you dearly." gan will have the opportunity to

rematch Nebraska, as well as face
No. 17 Illinois, No. 19 Kentucky,
West Virginia and North Carolina.
Michigan typically scores in
the mid-49.000 range on vault,
bars and floor, but its season high
on beam is only a 49.275 that was
earned at the very first meet of
the season, the Cancun Classic, on
Jan. 4.
Despite lower scores on beam,
the Wolverines are encouraged by
their capability to perform much
better than their scores reflect on
the event. To prepare for region-
als, they've been focusing on
training for pressure situations.
"It's impossible to create a real
meet-like pressure in practice, but
we do what we can," Plocki said.
Methods to simulate meet set-
tings include pressure sets with
music blasting in the background
to recreate crowd noise, stick

competitions and "team beam,"
in which the lineup competes
and tries to obtain a certain team
score.
The major beam assignment
of the week was originally to
spell out "Regional Champs" by
Wednesday. Everytime a gymnast
scored at least a 9.900 on a beam
routine in practice, she would put
one of the letters up. Because the
Wolverines almost spelled out the
phrase by the end of Monday, the
phrase was extended to "Regional
Champions," and then again, to
"NCAA 2013 Regional Champi-
ons" because of their progress.
The team completed the task on
Wednesday, the day before the
team traveled to West Virginia,
and remarkably, even gymnasts
not in the beam lineup helped
accomplish the letters assignment.

prepared for the upcoming meet,
the team mentality is on point.
Sophomore Annette Miele has
consistently been in the beam
lineup throughoutthis season. She
treats each routine in practice the
same way she does in a meet.
"This is all mental atthis point,"
Miele said.
Michigan has demonstrated a
new level of confidence that was
absent during the previous season.
Rather than let one major mistake
or fall create a domino effect on
the rest of the lineup, this team
is unfazed by the added pres-
sure placed in such high-pressure
instances.
Plocki comes up with a say-
ing each week for the team to live
by. This week's is "If you think
you can or if you think you can't,
you're right."
"What you're telling yourself

is what you believe," Plocki said.
"What you believe is what your
reality is, and if you believe you're
not good, you're not going to be
good. If you believe you're good,
you have a lot better of a chance of
being good, but youhave to believe
that you're great if you want to
go out there and win a National
Championship."
The Wolverines hope to place
in the top two at Regionals to
advance to the NCAA Champion-
ships, held in Los Angeles. The
last time Michigan was in Califor-
nia, the team scored a season-best
197.550 on March 10.
"We need to do what we do,"
Plocki said. "We need to be as
good as we are. We need to per-
form the same way on Saturday
that we have during the bulk of the
regular season, trust in our abili-

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