Women’s gymnastics energized for the NCAA Championships

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By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 18, 2013

For the 20th time in program history, the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team, invigorated after vindicating themselves at Regionals on April 6, has qualified for the NCAA Championships.

The Wolverines (12-2 Big Ten, 23-2 overall) wrap up their season this weekend at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. They will take on Oklahoma, Alabama, UCLA, Utah and Arkansas in the evening semifinal session on Friday, when the all-around champion will be determined. Their rotation order will advance from uneven bars to balance beam, a bye, floor exercise, vault and a second bye. If Michigan places among the top three teams in its session, it will advance to the Super Six to vie for the national team title on Saturday. Individually, the top four competitors on each event from each semifinal — ties included — will be invited to the event finals on Sunday.

With a long weekend ahead, the team simulated back-to-back mock meets in practice to mirror the short amount of rest time between the semifinals and the Super Six. Because sticking the landing can decide who wins a national championship, Michigan coach Bev Plocki assigned a task which the team successfully accomplished; each time a gymnast stuck a dismount or landing, she put her name on a letter to spell out both of the verses of “The Victors.”

“Let’s try to put up the whole fight song,” Plocki said. “Because if we can do this at nationals, then that’s what we’re going to be singing when we’re up on the podium.”

After just missing qualifications for the NCAA Championships in 2012, the Wolverines have a renewed focus on the quality of their gymnastics. Collectively, the upperclassmen are excited to return to nationals while the freshmen and sophomores are ready for the new experience.

“This season has really shown me what college gymnastics is about, especially how fun it is and just how exciting it is to compete with a full team that has such a deep lineup on every event,” said sophomore Sachi Sugiyama. “It’s definitely put a different kind of pressure on me in comparison to last year, where I was just put in the lineup because I was one of the only ones ready to go.”

Seniors Natalie Beilstein, Brittnee Martinez and Katie Zurales — three former NCAA All-Americans — lead the squad. Along with junior Joanna Sampson, the NCAA Northeast Region Gymnast of the Year, Michigan certainly has the talent and ability to reach the Super Six for only the 11th time in history.

“We’re there, but we still have work to do,” Plocki said. “We haven’t had our best meet of the season yet. Everyone has to dig a little bit deeper. We’re referring to these days as ‘practice opportunities.’ During that two-day intrasquad, we did a great job of being focused, paying attention to details and had a much bigger sense of urgency. There’s a quality to what we’re doing.”

Michigan has an advantage over some of its competitors, having already competed at Pauley Pavilion in a quad meet, where it scored its season-best 197.550 on March 10, defeating No. 6 UCLA, California and Iowa State.

“You can come into the gym and visualize yourself at the venue,” Zurales said. “As you’re going through your routines, you know what it feels like.”

Plocki has a new quote each week. Her final one reads, “Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out.”

By continuing to do what they’ve been doing in practice and competition from week to week, the Wolverines, who have been ranked No. 1 in the country twice this season, look to qualify for finals.

“They’re certainly not overconfident, but they’re confident enough to believe that they’re going to be competing on Saturday at four o’clock in the Super Six,” Plocki said.