By Albert Kim

Daily Sports Writer

The news that the No. 9 Michigan women’s gymnastics team had been dreading to hear all year broke last week, as superstar junior co-captain Elise Ray was declared out for the season due to a dislocated shoulder. But life without Ray is a little brighter now than it was four weeks ago, when Michigan hit rock bottom with a third-place finish at the State of Michigan Classic.

“I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “We’ve all had to work harder, but sometimes the best results you get are the ones you have to work the hardest for.”

By all accounts, the Wolverines were struggling to stay afloat in February, as injuries mounted and the team struggled on the road. At one point, the team couldn’t even field six gymnasts for a few events. But as the gymnasts adjusted to their new roles and worked nonstop to compensate for the loss of Ray and others, things turned around.

“I see a lot more confidence in this team,” Plocki said. “They’ve gotten tough because they’ve had to.”

“There were plenty of times where a lot of them could’ve just given in and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ and not one of them that’s in the lineup right now has done that. I have an awful lot of respect for these kids.”

Ray will have surgery tomorrow to repair a torn labrum and tighten her shoulder capsule. She is expected to be out six months, including four to six weeks in a sling. Although Ray could’ve competed this year in a few events, she decided not to risk further injury and instead hope for two healthy years after the surgery.

“It was ultimately my decision,” Ray said. “It was very probable that it would’ve sub-luxed again (without surgery).”

The other casualty is junior Christine Mantilia, who tore her ACL and also damaged her meniscus. Mantilia will be out until July, although she could start running in about four weeks. It has been a frustrating process for her.

“It’s frustrating because it actually feels more normal than it actually is,” Mantilia said. “I feel I can go out and run right now, but it hasn’t healed enough.”

Erica Rubin and Lauren Mirkovich, both of whom tore ACLs last year, have helped her.

“They keep on checking up on me, and keep on giving me advice,” Mantilia said. “Seeing how well Lauren is doing right now is great motivation.”

Despite everything that has happened this year – the injuries, uneven bar problems, mental breakdowns – Michigan is still among the nation’s best. The Wolverines are hitting their stride and building momentum heading into their stretch run. The team proved against UCLA that it can go against the best, and will get a chance to make a statement against No. 4 Nebraska on Senior Night this Friday. It will be the last regular season home meet for Michigan’s lone senior, Janessa Grieco, but regionals will also be held in Ann Arbor.

“We always get excited for senior night,” Plocki said. “They’re a great team, but we’re a great team, too.”

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