By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 20, 2010
For Michigan coach Bev Plocki, returning to the NCAA Championships never gets old, even if it is the team’s 17th appearance on the national stage in her 18-year tenure.
But after getting knocked out early in the NCAA regional championships by Stanford one year ago, the No. 6 Michigan women's gymnastics team is looking ahead just one day at a time.
The Wolverines will be performing in a field of six during a preliminary round Thursday in Gainesville, Florida, where the top three team scores will advance to face another three squads, which compete again Friday in a "Super Six" format.
After flying out on Tuesday, the preliminaries have pitted Michigan against top-ranked Alabama, No. 4 Florida, and No. 6 Stanford, alongside Missouri and Arkansas, both of whom are also top-notch programs.
While the Wolverines have already faced the Cardinals and the Crimson Tide during the course of this season, their other competition remains unknown.
“A lot of these teams we haven’t seen yet,” Plocki said. “It’s hard to make a prediction about the field, because on any given night any team can have either a great day or an off day. So all that we are concentrating on is going in and trying to have our best day.”
Michigan has not managed to reach the Super Six since 2005, and in order to halt that streak, the squad will have to overcome some major adversity.
After freshman Katie Zurales separated her shoulder during her beam routine in regional action — a mishap that nearly led the Wolverines to an utter collapse on their final rotation — the team has had to deal with the challenge of finding an athlete to fill Zurales’s spot on the beam and vault lineups.
According to Plocki, freshman standout Natalie Beilstein will take on the task of carrying her injured teammate’s beam routine, while senior Jaclyn Kramer will step up to perform on the vault.
Beilstein will look to add even more titles to her long list of accomplishments. She is tied with teammate Kylee Botterman for the 18th slot nationally on the vault in just her first year as a Big Ten athlete.
The elder Botterman is among the top 25-ranked gymnasts in every rotation after winning 24 event tiles so far this season, currently holding fast to her seventh-ranked position in the NCAA for the all-around.
After accomplishing as much as they have year, failing to punch their ticket to the Super Six would be a disappointment for the Wolverines.
“I want the girls to have fun and enjoy the experience first and foremost,” Plocki said. “So the more relaxed and loose we can keep them here, the better.”