Michigan gymnast Elise Ray”s freshman year was something few students could ever relate to. Ray had a previous obligation captaining the 2000 U.S. Summer Olympic gymnastics team which forced her to skip out of the fall semester. She concluded the second semester in style by winning the NCAA all-around championship last April.
Ray had a binding contract that obligated her to go on a post-Olympic tour, which caused her to miss Michigan”s first two events last season. After joining the team, Ray competed in all four events in every single meet for the Wolverines and never once scored below a 9.35 in 52 rotations. She set a Michigan record by scoring better than a 39.0 overall in 11 straight meets and earned All-America honors .
But things have changed this year.
In the Wolverines” season-opening meet a month ago in Maui, Ray competed in the all-around but scored a career low 38.6. Since Maui, her troublesome heel injury has gotten progressively worse. Ray has yet to compete in an all-around competition in six meets since.
She still competed in every meet in the uneven bars and balance beam and just returned to the vault last weekend. Yet she has not competed on the floor since the first meet, which has kept her out of the all-around competition.
But that”s not all bad.
Instead of always being the one to rely on, Ray is now welcoming more of a supporting role.
“It”s been good (being out of the spotlight),” Ray said. “I can concentrate on being healthy and get things together. I feel more of a team player this year. Last year was a new environment for me because I had to be on a team and step out of the individual role. But this year I knew what to expect.”
Not being the main attraction off the floor hasn”t seemed to affect Ray”s on- floor performances.
Although she hasn”t been able to compete in the all-around competition, Ray still posted a career-high 9.975 in the uneven bars last Friday against Florida. Her 9.908 average on the uneven bars is the third best in the nation.
“I feel like I”ve been in my own world a little bit this year and that”s been nice,” she said.
Part of the reason Ray has taken a supporting role on the floor this year is because of the emergence of fellow sophomore Calli Ryals, who is having a career year. Ryals” own dominance in the all-around competition has allowed the Michigan coaches to not force Ray into any events that may further push her injury.
But Ray fully plans to be competing in the all-around when it really matters, at the NCAA Championships in April.
“It”s hard to sit out,” Ray said, “But I think it”s important to look towards the end of the season when Nationals are, because I don”t want to push myself now and be hurt later.”