BY BRYAN HAMILTON
Daily Sports Writer
Published February 13, 2006
Back-flipping on a precariously narrow beam with no one to spot you.
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A strong, yet elegant solo dance across a padded ground.
Soaring through the air with just bars to grab hold of.
In the individual sport of gymnastics, athletes take turns as loners in the spotlight.
As the performer steps onto center stage, there is nothing but the thoughts of a choreographed routine on her mind - that is, until a group of 10-and 11-year old girls start screaming her name.
For four years, this has been the experience of Michigan women's gymnastics standout Jenny Deiley. Now a senior, Deiley has enjoyed many accomplishments throughout her career. Deiley was a 2005 team co-MVP, was named an All-American a year ago and claimed five Big Ten player of the week honors, including last week's award after a first-place overall finish against Ohio State. The highly decorated Wolverine has earned much success during her time in Ann Arbor, but her proudest moments have come before she even begins her performances.
"My absolute favorite thing has been the girls that come and support me," Deiley said. "They make it to all of my meets, and won't stop yelling my name out until I wave at them in the stands."
The girls that come out to cheer on their favorite Michigan gymnast are a small group of elementary-aged school girls who are aspiring gymnasts themselves. Gymnastics is a sport that starts at a very young age, with clubs, coaches and big dreams all happening before girls reach junior high. One of these coaches who has instilled big dreams in this group of girls is the very gymnast they come to support.
"The girls come to our camps that we have," Deiley said. "So I get a chance to coach them a little bit and talk to their mothers about how they are doing and coming along in their gymnastics."
This experience of supporting younger gymnasts resembles the kind of support and teamwork seen on the Michigan gymnastics team this season. Though classified as an individual sport, gymnastics at the collegiate level requires a great deal of teamwork to be successful. Deiley's actions this season have reflected this concept.
"I have the most competing experience on the team," Deiley said. "So I feel I need to help relax people before they go out and perform, and also just have confidence in what everyone's doing."
Deiley's confidence has not been misplaced. Coming off a fifth-place finish last year at the NCAA Championships, the Wolverines are hot on the path once again, contending for a national title. The Wolverines recently won their 23rd consecutive Big Ten event and are currently ranked fourth in the nation. Yet, despite such early success, the athletes know that winning a national title requires something special.
"This year has been different," Deiley said. "We all have been coming in every day and staying later than usual. Everyone is very dedicated this year."
It is also the final year for Deiley - and one she wants to end on the highest note.
"We definitely want to win it all," Deiley said.
"We." Whether it's been her young fans cheering her on or the team pulling for one another, it's this collective "we" that Deiley has enjoyed throughout her career. And it may be that in an individual sport, it is the teamwork and support of everyone that gives this Wolverine team that special something needed to bring a title to Michigan.