After tumultuous week, Wolverines eager to move forward
Maddie Mariani stood tall, took a breath and composed herself. Then the freshman sped down the runway and gracefully launched herself over the vault. She landed cleanly on the mat, where she was mobbed by her coaches and teammates.
The scoreboard flashed a solid 9.825.
For Mariani and her teammates, it was a moment of exhalation, energy and, for the first time in over a week, normalcy.
Eight days after Michigan initially hired Rhonda Faehn, a former senior vice president of USA Gymnastics, to be an assistant coach — and four days after she was fired — the Wolverines returned to the mat. They did so with an eye toward moving on from a tumultuous week.
“It was kind of an emotional weekend — a high and a low,” said senior Emma McLean. “We pulled it back together, and it’s not anything we can’t handle. I think our foundation is so strong that at this point nothing is going to shake us.”
Faehn departed USA Gymnastics in the fallout of the Larry Nassar scandal. She was hired by Michigan on Thursday, Jan. 10. She was fired four days later.
Sunday evening, in the statement announcing Faehn’s firing, athletic director Warde Manuel characterized her hiring as the “wrong decision.”
The decision to part ways with Faehn was met with displeasure from many on the team. Senior Olivia Karas was among those who reacted negatively at the time, tweeting Sunday, “Disappointed that this opportunity has been taken from us. No one seems to care that we were so excited to have Rhonda joining us this season. Very, very disappointed.”
Friday, though holding to a similar sentiment, Karas struck a softer tone.
“(The coaches) were very transparent with us, and we were really excited to have her here,” Karas said. “I’m really upset about losing her on our coaching staff. However, I understand the backlash and understand how there could be feelings towards it that could make it not necessarily a good idea. But I am very sad. I really liked her.”
Michigan coach Bev Plocki, meanwhile, kept her focus on the meet, one in which the Wolverines topped Michigan State, 195.975-194.050.
“Yeah, I’ve talked about that,” Plocki said Friday, when asked about her decision to make the hiring. “Right now we’re going to continue focusing on moving forward.”
In Saturday’s announcement of Faehn’s hiring — issued a day after The Daily learned of it — Plocki offered effusive praise.
“I have known and respected Rhonda Faehn for over two decades,” she said in the statement. “Her accomplishments in our sport speak for themselves. Her technical knowledge and experience will greatly benefit our student-athletes."
Faehn was fired a day later after multiple regents publicly called for her removal to the Detroit Free Press.
Karas confirmed to The Daily that Manuel addressed the team this week, though she declined to comment on the nature of that conversation.
For the players, Friday’s meet was a chance to move past the turmoil. It was a chance to celebrate freshman Natalie Wojcik, an emerging star; an opportunity to speculate on a team brimming with potential; a day to move past a controversy that was never in their control, into a future that will be.
“We were doing it without (Faehn) before and we can continue to do it without her,” McLean said. “Whatever we have in ourselves is whatever we need. We have whatever we need to make the best of it.”