It was a special night for more than just Michigan and Stanford Saturday evening at Crisler Arena. Two familiar faces from Michigan”s past returned to Ann Arbor for the women”s gymnastics NCAA Northeast Regional Tournament Massachusetts coach David Kuzara and New Hampshire assistant coach Beth Amelkovich.
Kuzara graduated from Michigan in 1980, only to return 10 years later to serve as an assistant under Michigan coach Bev Plocki. After three successful seasons, he decided to leave Ann Arbor in 1994 to take over the head coaching position at Massachusetts.
In his three years at Michigan, Kuzara was instrumental in establishing the program as one of the nation”s elite. Kuzara helped the Wolverines claim two Big Ten titles in 1992 and 1993 and led them to a ninth-place finish at the 1993 NCAA Championships their best national finish at the time. In 1992, he was named NCAA Central Region Co-Assistant Coach of the Year after guiding Michigan to a second-place finish at the regional championships.
“I have been back here a couple times before, but its just more special every time I come back,” Kuzara said. “I owe (Michigan coach) Bev (Plocki) a huge debt of gratitude for all she has done for me.”
“It was awesome seeing Dave again,” Plocki said. “He was such a big part of our program because we started from nothing and became something. I am really happy that he has gone off and become so successful at Massachusetts.”
Kuzara, who became the all-time winningest coach in Massachusetts women”s gymnastics history earlier this season, brought new life to the program when he accepted the head coaching position eight years ago. In his first season at the helm, the Minutewomen finished with a 17-6 season record their second highest win total in school history and qualified for the NCAA Northeast Regional meet. In his eight seasons with the program, Kuzara”s squad has qualified for the regional championships seven times, and has compiled an impressive 82-48 record.
Although it did not perform at its best Saturday, Kuzara believes that it is just a matter of time before his team reaches the national finals.
“Three or four years ago, we were on the verge of making it,” Kuzara said. “For a couple of years, we had some bizarre problems with injury and illness, but reaching this year”s regional competition was a good stepping stone for us. We”re not Michigan, but we”re a great university with a lot of support. And we”re going to make it.”
Just as important to Michigan was four-year superstar gymnast Beth Amelkovich. Amelkovich, who just completed her first season as an assistant at New Hampshire, graduated from Michigan in 1999 and is hailed as one of the Wolverines” finest all-time gymnasts. In her senior year, she was an integral part of the Michigan team that finished second to Georgia at the NCAA Championships the closest the Wolverines have ever come to winning a national championship.
“I”m really excited to come back it feels like I”m coming back home,” Amelkovich said. “It was fun because when the girls from New Hampshire had any questions, I was able to answer them.”
Amelkovich, who said that she decided she wanted to go into coaching after her freshman year of college, is content with her decision to go to New Hampshire. “I love the job,” she said. “The coaches, gymnasts, and administration are all wonderful. I have a lot of different ideas that I think can help the team, and I hope I am doing a good job. I”m having lots of fun.”
Still, Amelkovich has not ruled out the idea of possibly returning to Michigan if the opportunity arises.
“Bev (Plocki) and (assistant coach) Scott (Sherman) both know that I”d love to come back here and coach,” Amelkovich said. “It”s a dream of mine, it”s something that I”ve looked forward to, so maybe a couple years down the road. If an opening comes up, I”ll definitely apply.”
“Whenever I see Beth, I still think that she should be one of my athletes,” Plocki said. “I just think she should be wearing maize and blue. But, I am proud of her success, the coaches at New Hampshire have raved about her, and I am happy for her.”
Both Kuzara and Amelkovich feel that this year”s Wolverines have an excellent chance to make history by becoming the first women”s team at Michigan to win a national championship.
“It”s a totally different ballgame around here now,” Kuzara said. “The level of athletes they are able to recruit is amazing, and they have lots of momentum right now. One of these years, they will win it all.”
“This team has what it takes to win,” Amelkovich said. “They just have to concentrate and not worry about what kind of meet it is. If they do what they did tonight, they have an excellent chance to win.”