Women’s gymnastics ready to make a statement at NCAA Regional

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By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 3, 2014

The NCAA Regionals may be the most underrated meet of the season.

Considering no trophy is even awarded, NCAA Regionals may seem especially anticlimactic for the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team, which just came off a huge win to take home the Big Ten title.

However, the opposite could not be more true.

“It’s the most important meet of the year,” said senior Shelby Gies.

Following the Big Ten Championships, the meet serves as a gateway to the NCAA Championships, which means that a poor performance could spell an early end to the season.

To advance to its 20th NCAA Championships, Michigan must place in the top two Saturday at the Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga. The team is slated to face No. 6 Georgia, No. 18 Central Michigan, No. 22 Ohio State, North Carolina State and Rutgers.

Regardless of how well Michigan has performed lately, which is to say well, the team can’t overlook how crucial this meet is. It’s dangerous in that the only scores that matter to qualify for nationals are the ones recorded at the respective regional sites.

“It’s new life,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “If you go to regionals and blow it, then there is no nationals. Your season ends abruptly.”

The Wolverines are on a mission to make a statement at regionals. They have their eyes set on more than just qualifying for the next competition. Rather, they want to separate themselves from the competition and prove that they are serious contenders for the coveted national title.

“We want to win that region because that’s going to be the perception of what our team’s ability to win a national championship is based on,” Plocki said. “We want to create buzz. We want people to be talking about our incredible meet and we want to prove that our Big Ten performance wasn’t a fluke.”

A key component to this picture is the role of the alternates after sophomore Austin Sheppard suffered a season-ending broken ankle in practice last week.

Sheppard, ranked No. 2 in the nation on vault with an average score of 9.945, will need her teammates to fill her spot in the lineup on vault, uneven bars and balance beam.

“I think everyone feels terrible for Austin,” Plocki said. “She had an opportunity to do some big things in this postseason, but I don’t think anybody on our team in any way, shape or form is letting her injury affect us in any other way than to be that much more determined.”

It’s nearly impossible to replace Sheppard, so the goal is shifted toward collectively as a team polishing the details, picking up extra tenths from hit handstands and stuck landings.

Stepping in for her on vault will be senior Reema Zakharia, who has been in and out of the lineup throughout the season. Sophomore Lindsay Williams will be her replacement in the other two events.

“Bev puts emphasis on 7-8-9 in the lineup,” Gies said. “They are the most important people on the team because they are constantly pushing people in the lineup. This is the perfect opportunity to see how much our team can dig to see how much we have in us.”

To better prepare for the meet, the team also simulated a mock meet with bye rotations in practice this week to adjust to the altered timing at regionals.

“It just gave them an opportunity to at least think about what it’s going to feel like to have to go and sit there for 10 to 15 minutes and not let your head get out of the context of the meet,” Plocki said. “It was nice to finish with a strong beam rotation, which we did deliberately since we’ll be ending on beam at regionals.”

Despite facing adversity a number of times throughout the season from scoring discrepancies to injuries, the Wolverines are ready to continue what they have been doing all season long: respond with confidence and impress.