The No. 2 Georgia Gym Dawgs are used to pressure-packed situations in front of thousands of fans. No. 6 Michigan was ecstatic to see the 3,037 supporters who showed up to cheer it in one of its closest meets of the year against one of the country”s most storied programs.
The crowd included a sea of balloon waving fans, a small, vocal student section complete with a Valentine for Michigan coach Bev Plocki and a hastily assembled pep band, which were treated to an exciting finish.
“We were so excited to see the band there,” sophomore Calli Ryals said. “It really does help. To hear that fight song is awesome.”
Michigan prevailed 197.175-197.025 in a meet that was tied going into the final rotation. Earlier this season the Wolverines were tied with Minnesota after three rotations before earning the win on the beam. But this time the finishing blow came on the floor exercise.
Michigan needed every bit of help it received in the extremely close meet. Conveniently enough, yesterday marked the return of sophomore Elise Ray who had been suffering from a bruised heel. The former Olympic team captain wasted no time in making an immediate impact for the team, winning her first all-around title of the year with a 39.625.
Her first performance back on the floor exercise, the only event she had not yet competed in since her injury, earned a mark of 9.90.
Ray”s all-around victory ended Ryals” streak of five consecutive all-around titles, a fact she needed to be reminded of during the award ceremonies when she took her regular spot on the first-place podium before realizing Ray had yet to be introduced.
Ryals rounded out the Michigan floor lineup with a 9.95, placing her in a tie for that event”s title.
“It was a little nerve-wracking (going last),” Ryals said. “But we were already hitting all our routines. I just had to go out there and have fun.”
The Wolverines posted no lower than a 9.85 on the floor, giving them breathing room aginst the Gym Dawgs, who were also hitting each of their routines on the beam.
The Gym Dawgs were competing just two days after defeating Kentucky in Ga., where they consistently draw about 10,000 fans to their arena. It was their third weekend of the year that contained such rigorous travel.
“It”s tough playing on the road when you”re used to 10,000 people cheering for you,” Georgia gymnast Marline Stephens said. “It definitely doesn”t help when those people are rooting against you.”
Even with this important victory, the Wolverines still cannot consider themselves equal to Georgia. Going into the meet, the Gym Dawgs held a 13-0 regular season record and a 14-1 postseason record over Michigan.
“I have the utmost respect for the Georgia program,” Plocki said. “I have tried to mirror our team like Georgia, in terms of their steady success and their following.”