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July 23, 1997 - Image 14

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Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 1997-07-23

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14 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, July 23, 1997

n 1993, Michigan women's gymnast Beth Wymer captured very season starts with the same dream for Michigan
the national title in the uneven bars. It was the first time a softball coach Carol Hutchins. She envisions her team
Wolverine won a national title in women's gymnastics. IE at the Women's College World Series hoisting the
But the significance of the event went beyond the short-term national championship trophy as its own.
satisfaction of the individual championship. While this dream may now seem realistic to Michigan fins
Wymer's feat marked the inauguration of a national power- afer three consecutive berths in the WCWS, it was an impos-
house, and the beginning of Michigan coach Bev Plocki's top- sibiity When Hutchins arrived.
caliber program. "During the coirse of the years, Ie see myself 'grow up in
"Once (Plocki) got Beth, and began to prove her ability to this program" Hutchins said.
coach high-quality athletes, then a lot of other good ones came And the program has followed her lea
as well,"Michigan athletic director Joe Roberson said. In 1983, Michigan softball was in its infancy. Bob
Although Roberson didn't hire Plocki, he witnessed the DeCarolis had one season of success but generally coached
maturation of the program. Michigan to mediocre records, and at Michigan mediocrity is
Plocki was unearthed out of West Virginia by then-athletic far from acceptable.
director Bo Schembechler. Her success as an athlete on the So athletic director Don Caham searched the sofball ranks
collegiate level - several Atlantic 10 achievements -- trans- for a competent assistant to enter the progran and discoveredw
formed into significant coaching accomplishments, including Hutchins, who was guiding Ferris State at the time.
the 1994 national coach of the year and four Big Ten coach of That background - combined with Big Ten experience as
the year awards. an Indiana assistant - made 'her an ideal choice to assist and
.She most recently led the Wolverines to fourth place in the eventually replace DeCarolis.
NCAA championships after winning the regional in Ann ' After assuming the reigns of the program in 1985, Hutchins
Arbor in April. established excellence as a standard, not a goal, and Michigan
But success didn't occur overnight. made gradual improvement.
In 1990, the Butler, Penn., native took hold of a sinking ship. The first step was to become a contender in the conference,
The 'Wolverines were coming off a winless Big Ten season, accomplished by three second-place finishes in the late 1980s.
managing only two victories overall. While she established a conference presence for Michigan.
Plocki did what she could in her first season to right the second never satisfied Hutchins.
ship. She managed a couple of conference victories that trans- Michigan began to command more respect in 1992 when
lated to a third-place finish the following year, pitcher Kelly Kovach came to Ann Arbor.
Still, the program was not a national power. She led Michigan to three Big Ten titles as the staff ace, and
In 1992-the season before Wymer's - its first berth in the WCWS.
breakthrough - Plocki coached "I know that when I got here they had
Michigan to an 11-0 record in the Big been solid," said Kovach, now an assis-
Ten and 20-3 overall, only to fall to sec- tans. "Each year we've taken a new step.
ond place in the regional, failing to make ,,'. ...,And with Hutch here, is's going so get
the NCAA championships. better"
But that year proved to be the last of . The success has come without cost,
such disappointments. Recruiting Kovach said. While other programs
became easier - a by-product of the are drowning in allegations, the only
program's success. thing Hutchins can be accused of is
"I think her difficulty in recruiting is helping.
Pckiwell behind her," Roberson said. "She's Above JONKRAFT/Da y Be ow EVAN PETREspeal to the Day "She's real easy to relate to because
now in a position to compete for the very she's down to earth," Kovach said. "The
best recruits in the country. kids know she'll be fair. She cares so much about each of them.
"But there are six, seven, eight elite programs, and Bev's is They don't want to let her down'
one of them." After three consecutive trips to the WCWS, Hutchins has
Although recruiting top performers is a major aspect of a established Michigan as a national power, a team that can
quality program, strong coaching is also necessary. And this compete on the highest level.
past season showed that Plocki is indeed a strong coach. Despite Michigan's cold-weather locale, Hutchins' reputaW
With only days remaining in the regular season, Michigan tion negates the climate factor during recruiting.
was struck by injury. Nikki Peters - an integral part of the "Once they're here, they love playing for Hutch," Kovach
tem - went down with two sprained ankles. said. "She's well known everywhere"
But Plocki proved her coaching prowess. Gymnasts who That attention stems from five regional coach of the year
were not used to the limelight filled in ably, propelling awards and one national honor. It is Hutchins' continued expo-
Michigan to the regional title. The depth of the team-evident sure that draws top talent to Michigan.
by the sophomores and freshmen who came through - is a So now that Hutchins has national exposure, great players
tribute to the thoroughness of Plocki's coaching. and three trips to the WCWS, what's next?
With this past season's accomplishments, Plocki has estab- The first Series win came this season, but Michigan still fell
lished women's gymnastics astone of the top athletic programs short with a fifth-place finish. The next step is a national title,
at the University. But there is still one goal left - a national a which would be a first for a Michigan women's team.
title. Each year brings the team closer and closer to the goal, "Once we won our first (Big Ten) championship, it gave u
putting additional pressure on the program to produce. ' a pride factor you can't teach," Hutchins said.
"Success is not demanded, but itsis expected," Roberson And, after 13 years of work, that pride is her doing -
said. despite her caution.
Plocki's team is currently full of Beth Wymer-types. Along "Success breeds success," she said. "And our program has
with her coaching skill, those talented individuals could very been one of the unfortunate victims of that"
wll propel the Wolverines to their first women's national team But with Hutchins at the helm, the only victims are the com-
title. ' petition.

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