Last season, sophomore Kelsey Knutson wasn’t out doing back walkovers on the beam, but she was still making an impact on the Michigan women’s gymnastics team.

Knutson suffered three major injuries and went through two surgeries during her freshman year. She couldn’t compete consistently in meets but still assumed a leadership role on the team.

Now, after seven months spent in rehab for her knee surgery, the Ames, Iowa, native is in the lineup and putting up the scores she knew she could.

“When we recruited Kelsey, I knew that she had first-team All American capabilities on bars and beam,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “She is one of the most beautiful athletes to watch. She’s got those long, lean lines, and she’s beautiful.”

During her freshman campaign, Knutson’s high expectations were immediately crushed by injuries to her wrist and back, as well as her knee. She tried to battle back, performing intermittently on bars and beam throughout the season. Following the season, she had surgery on a torn Posterior Cruciate Ligament in her knee.

Knutson said the time away from competition taught her different ways to contribute beyond just putting up high scores in meets.

“I just kept cheering a lot, offering advice,” Knutson said. “If someone was doing a routine, I could pull her aside and tell her what I saw and what I think about as a gymnast. If she’s struggling, just patting her on the back, telling her she can do it.”

Fifth-year senior captain Lindsey Bruck said Knutson is one of the team’s natural leaders.

“Even though she’s a sophomore, she’s got a lot of experience behind her,” Bruck said. “She works very hard in the gym, and she’s fought every day this fall.”

Knutson’s leadership during the rehab period was strengthened by her return to competition. She can now lead by example, too, with impressive scores.

Though she couldn’t practice hard dismounts or difficult routines for most of the fall, Knutson got back onto the beam with basic techniques: turns, handstands, and back walkovers.

She worked diligently and competed on beam in the Wolverines’ Jan. 19 victory over Penn State. Knutson performed a near-flawless routine in the meet, but fell on the dismount – an automatic half-point deduction.

But one week later, in front of a raucous Crisler Arena crowd, Knutson turned, flipped, and stuck her dismount cold in a routine that earned her an event-high 9.925 score. She captured the first individual event title of her career.

Knutson ran into Plocki’s arms after her landing. The gymnast and her coach sported ear-to-ear smiles, appreciating the dedication, rehab, and hard work of the past year.

“I was just so happy for her because that’s the Kelsey that we recruited,” Plocki said. “I’ve known all along that this is what she’s capable of.”

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