The women”s gymnastics Big Ten Championship meet over the past decade has become one where the only way Michigan can lose is if it beats itself.
Saturday night, it almost did. The Wolverines still managed to take home the Big Ten title, finishing with a team score of 197.150, holding off second-place Penn State by .725.
But, the win didn”t come without some anxious moments.
After three spectacular rotations, the Wolverines finished their night on the event that has often proven to be the thorn in their collective sides the balance beam. Michigan posted the best team scores of the night on floor, bars and vault, and headed into its last event with a comfortable lead. It was a cushion that the Wolverines would find necessary.
After Janessa Grieco, Calli Ryals and Missy Peterson began the beam with three solid scores, the Wolverines turned to their rocks expecting to finish off their ninth Big Ten title in 10 years in grand fashion.
So when Karina Senior and Freshman of the Year finalist Elise Ray sandwiched Shannon MacKenzie”s near-flawless performance with falls, the Wolverines” mood changed from excitement to concern.
“We were all kind of quiet (after the falls),” Senior said. “We were all thinking “Oh my god, I hope we didn”t blow it.” We were nervous sitting here waiting to hear the final scores.”
Up until the beam, Ray was showing why she is ranked in the top 10 in the country in the all-around, going neck and neck in the individual all-around competition with eventual individual champion Alexis Maday of Iowa. But as is often the case in gymnastics, one little mistake can be costly and that held true with Ray”s fall on the beam.
“I had a great meet up to beam. It was just one of those things I guess,” Ray said of her fall. “I”m just happy that it didn”t affect the team, that”s what I was most worried about.”
Adding to the tension of the moment was the fact that the Wolverines had some uncertainty about their position in the overall standings.
“I knew that we had a lead going into the beam but I didn”t know how much of a lead it was,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “When Elise made her punch-front, I felt that we were home free. I never expected her to have a problem on her flight series.
“After that, it just kept running through my mind that I didn”t know whether our score was substantial enough to have to count a fall and still be able to pull it off. Thank goodness it was.”
Wolverines Awarded: In addition to capturing yet another Big Ten title, Michigan turned the All-Big Ten Team into a Wolverine celebration.
Christine Michaud, Bridget Knaeble, Senior, Ryals, Grieco, Ray, MacKenzie, Amy Kuczera and Cami Singer were all named to the team comprising nine of the 22 gymnasts awarded with the conference honor.
Knaeble was also a finalist for Gymnast of the Year, and Plocki was a finalist for Coach of the Year.
Challenging Rotation: Seven teams took part in the Big Ten Championship. Since there are just four events, that meant three teams sat out three of the seven rotations during the evening.
That aspect adds a level of difficulty that doesn”t come into play during dual meets. The gymnasts are forced to try to stay focused in a pressure situation for up to 20 minutes in between events.
“It”s difficult,” Senior said. “You”re ready to go and then you have to calm down for a while and then try to bring it up again. It”s really draining.”
Home Court Advantage: The fact that Big Ten titles have become expected for the Wolverines hasn”t done anything to take the thrill of victory away especially at home.
“Being in front of a home crowd is great,” Ray said. “It was just so much more fun because we were at home and had the crowd with us It feels wonderful to win.”