Dogs are said to be man’s best friend.
But what about people who act like dogs?
The No. 9 Michigan women’s gymnastics team will face the latter today in Athens, Georgia, where it will square off against the Georgia Bulldogs (3-1) in a dual meet. The Wolverines are well aware that they are heading into their toughest challenge of the season, and that they must keep focused.
“I think the kids get excited to compete in these big arenas with the fans,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “The thing that we’ve talked about is trying to take all the energy that will be in that arena and try to convince ourselves that it’s all for us. (The Bulldogs want) that to be their home court advantage, all that energy and all the people barking, and all that kind of stuff.”
Both teams come into the meet with aspirations of a national championship. Michigan (2-0, 2-0 Big Ten) defeated Minnesota last Friday to extend its Big Ten winning streak to an impressive 40 meets, while Georgia sits comfortably at No. 2 in the nation.
The Bulldogs, who finished second last year at NCAAs, are led by a pair of juniors in Chelsea Byrd and Cory Fritzinger. Fritzinger, who is averaging 38.942 in the all-around so far this year, posted the Bulldog’s first 10.0 score on beam in four years last week.
“It’s a challenge for us to be competitive with the Georgias and the Alabamas and the UCLAs without some of our best performers in the lineup,” Plocki noted.
One of those performers is Elise Ray, the defending national champion on beam, who has been out for the whole season up to this point while recovering from an injury. Not having Ray is a big blow for the Wolverines, who are also missing four other scholarship athletes because of injuries.
“I think there is more pressure on everybody,” Plocki noted. “There should be no more pressure on Calli (Ryals) than there is on Kara Rosella or Chelsea Kroll or Janessa Grieco, or anybody else who’s in the lineup.”
Michigan won last year’s event by the skin of its teeth, with the final score being 197.175-197.025. Ryals and Grieco helped the Wolverines tremendously, with Ryals taking the floor routine title with a score of 9.95. Grieco chipped in with a 9.85 on vault. Grieco was recently named co-Big Ten Athlete of the Week for women’s gymnastics for her performance last week against the Gophers.
While some people may be jealous of the team’s trip out of the frigid Ann Arbor weather, this journey is by no means a joy ride. According to Plocki, Georgia’s Stegeman Coliseum is “a huge arena. They’re sold out continuously, so it’ll be 10,000 fans.
“It will be like a national championship atmosphere.”