Road wins are hard to come by in collegiate sports. But don’t tell that to the Michigan women’s gymnastics team.
The Wolverines (9-4, 2-1 Big Ten) scored two huge road victories in the last two weeks, both against top-11 teams. First, the Wolverines knocked off No. 11 Denver with a mile-high score of 197.025 on Feb. 22. Then last week, they traveled to Utah to take on No. 5 Utah, winning the event 196.750-195.875. To make things even more sunny on the Wolverines horizon, they did not count a fall in either event, an impressive feat considering that there were a total of 24 individual routines performed in the two meets.
“I think that the team feels like they’re putting it together,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “I think their confidence has increased, and I think that they have gotten a taste of the level of success that they’re capable of.”
Against Denver, the team opened with a 49.275 on vault and never looked back, outscoring the Pioneers in two of the final three rotations to take the victory.
“(The trip) started out on a high note at Denver,” Plocki said. “(It was) our first time (this season) breaking a 197.”
Freshman Jenny Deiley continued her torrid pace this year, tying for her third career all-around title with a score of 39.5. Deiley also won the vault and balance beam titles with scores of 9.9 and 9.25 respectively.
After the season high score against Denver, one might have thought that the Wolverines would experience a letdown, but the team showed its toughness by keeping up the intensity. Michigan posted a 49.125 on bars, its second highest score of the season, to open the meet. Utah faltered in the first rotation on vault, posting a subpar 48.95. After a minor hiccup on vault (a 49.050) caused Michigan to relinquish the lead, the Wolverines regained their composure with a magnificent 49.45 on beam and never looked back.
Michigan also accomplished a milestone in beating the Utes. Up until this year, no Michigan team had ever beaten Utah in Salt Lake City.
“It was really just icing on the cake to be able to beat Utah at Utah,” Plocki said. “That was awesome.”
The road trip gave Plocki and the Wolverines a idea of how they stack up against the nation’s best. But that was not all it brought into clear view. It also showed the team that they are capable of performing very well on bars, a problem area in the earlier part of the season. Before the two-week venture into hostile territory, Michigan struggled mightily on bars, at one point having four falls in a single meet and having to count two of those falls.
“We’ve been working really hard on that event,” Plocki said. Michigan assistant coach Scott Sherman, who’s in charge of bars “has been working with the kids very hard over this whole season, and I think that we’re finally starting to see some of the results of their hard work and putting some things together,” Sherman said.
The Wolverines proved that they have what it takes to compete on the road, but their next contest will be just as hard, and this time it will be a home meet when powerhouse UCLA, the No. 1 team in the country, invades Crisler Arena on Friday. The Bruins are led by junior Jamie Dantzscher, the NCAA vault, floor, and all-around champion last year. In addition to those honors, Dantzscher was also on the 2000 US Olympic team, along with Wolverine Elise Ray.
Michigan proved over the last two weeks that it can hang with the big dogs. The Wolverines just hope the big dog doesn’t eat on Friday.