I see skies of blue and clouds of white.

The bright-blessed day, the dark say good night,

And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

—Louis Armstrong

Aside from Elise Ray’s shoulder problems and the troubles with landings and dismounts at the beginning of the year, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team had very little to worry about during the 2005 season.

But what happened on Friday night in Athens, Ga. was much worse than any injury or technical flaw. The Wolverines lost confidence in themselves.

“(The team) got nervous — they started questioning,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “In our sport, if you start to question your ability to do something, all kinds of bad things are going to happen.”

For Michigan, the bad things were falls and low scores, and, when the night came to an end, the Wolverines were in a position they were unfamiliar with — the receiving end of a 197.00-194.875 domination by Georgia.

And unlike most other sports, gymnastics coaches do not have the luxury of a timeout to rally their players or draw up plays. When a gymnast begins to doubt herself going into an event, there isn’t much a coach can do to help her.

But the Wolverines aren’t going to dwell on the past — not with a significant meet against Michigan State and the Big Ten Championships looming. During Monday’s practice, Plocki sat her team down and talked about the meet for a few minutes. Her plan was to discuss what happened and then never to bring it up again.

“It’s a learning experience,” Plocki said of the meet. “If we find ourselves in that situation again — if there is a little mistake or the judging isn’t as we’d like it — I want to see determination on their faces. And I want to see them digging down, pulling out their Michigan pride and saying to themselves, ‘Darn it, we’re not going to let anybody put us down. We’re going to show you how good we are.’ ”

For most of the season, every time a gymnast was out on the floor or performing her beam routine, she exuded confidence. It was this “reckless abandon” that helped Michigan become so successful on the floor and beam — it was seventh and third in the nation, respectively. And when a team does so well during the course of the season, it can be easy to take confidence for granted. Now Michigan knows that not every meet can be viewed through rose-colored glasses.

“We got a rough meet out of our way and out of our system,” freshman Katie Lieberman said. “I think it will help us in a way because we’ve been so consistent and scoring so well. It just pumps you up to do better and make sure it never happens again.”

But coach Plocki doesn’t believe this loss will hurt the momentum the team had before the meet.

“I hope that this experience is going to give us a great deal of motivation,” Plocki said. “I hope it will be something that will give us that little kick.”

The coach also said that all the problems the Wolverines had on Friday night were mental, and she doesn’t feel the team has to deviate too much from the normal routine in the future.

With its worst meet of the year behind them, the Wolverines’ season may rest on their ability to regain their confidence and think to themselves, “what a wonderful world.”

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