By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 16, 2012
Most teams need senior veterans to achieve success, but not the Michigan women’s gymnastics team.
The senior-less Wolverines are young, but after their opening-meet victory against rival No. 18 Ohio State (1-1 Big Ten, 1-1 overall) on Friday, there was little doubt about whether the junior leadership they have will suffice.
“I think without seniors, we don’t have as much of a division between upperclassmen and (underclassmen),” said freshman Sachi Sugiyama, who was all smiles at the event. “I think that really changes the togetherness of the team and really brings us together.”
The team’s close relationship was apparent on Friday night when No. 10 Michigan (1-0, 1-0) opened its season with a 195.500-195.175 victory over the Buckeyes. The Wolverines hope their early success will translate to a strong season that will end with a sixth straight Big Ten Title.
“I was definitely really excited coming into this meet and this season,” Sugiyama said. “My goal is to hit 9.800s on beam because (it) is more difficult for me to get clean on beam.”
Both Sugiyama and junior captain Katie Zurales — who won the all-around competition at the meet — were included on the Big Ten women’s gymnasts to-watch list during the preseason.
In her collegiate debut, Sugiyama set personal bests on bars (9.800) and vault (9.875), second only to junior Brittnee Martinez (9.850) and sophomore Joanna Sampson (9.900), respectively.
“(Collegiate) competition is a whole different experience,” Sugiyama said. “It’s a lot more exciting, and it’s not as nerve racking because you’re not just working for yourself, you’re working for your team.”
And Sugiyama’s nerves peeked through with little mistakes throughout the event.
“I need to clean up the little stuff like my knees and my feet,” Sugiyama said. “Other than that, I thought it went pretty well.”
“(Sugiyama) is going to add a lot to this team,” added Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “She exhibitioned beam, which was great, but we have to clean up a little bit of (her) execution.”
Despite the mistakes, Sugiyama was a bright star amongst the young Wolverine team.
“Overall, I thought (Sugiyama) had a very good first meet,” Plocki said. “She’s only going to continue to get stronger and stronger as the season goes on.”
Friday night was not only the beginning of what could be another strong season from this Michigan squad, but also an opportunity to see the young talent that lies ahead. It certainly explains what Sugiyama was smiling about.