Michigan”s 194.9-186.6 victory over Northern Illinois yesterday at Cliff Keen Arena was never in doubt. But how well the Wolverines could perform with a roster slowed by injurie especially on the balance beam was the team”s main concern.
In an event that was expected to be one of the Wolverines” strengths at the beginning of the season, the team posted a disappointing score of 47.450 at the Maui Invitational on Jan. 4, due in part to two early falls.
Michigan was faced with the same scenario again on Sunday when junior co-captain Janessa Grieco and freshman Kallie Steffes both suffered falls in the team”s first two routines.
“It”s kind of natural to think, “Oh no, here we go again,”” senior Shannon MacKenzie said. “But we worked a lot in practice this week on pressure sets.
“We can”t control anything anyone else is doing. We have to concentrate only on ourselves, and there”s no more or less pressure regardless of what the person in front of us did.”
Despite one small stumble, senior Melissa Peterson”s solid routine scored a 9.775. This broke the string of subpar Michigan beam performances and injected some life back into the team.
MacKenzie followed Peterson”s lead with a quality routine of her own, posting a score of 9.850 en route to her fourth career beam title.
“The fact that we started out with two falls and finished with four hit beam sets was a major learning experience for the kids,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said.
The team”s total beam score of 48.450 was a major improvement from the score posted in Hawaii, but is still not what the team is capable of achieving.
“We should be able to go out there without even batting an eye and hit six for six every single meet,” Plocki said, “That”s what they do in the gym every day.
“We have to instill in them the confidence that they can go out there and do that and not be so tentative in a tense situation.”
In addition to improving their performance on the beam, the Wolverines were looking to find ways to register quality scores with a number of their top gymnasts hampered by injury.
Both Grieco and MacKenzie are still recovering from shoulder and ankle injuries, respectively, and are not yet at 100 percent. Peterson was pulled from competing in the vault in order to protect a shoulder injury.
Sunday”s meet also marked the first time that sophomore Elise Ray (bruised heel) did not compete in the all-around competition. She had competed in the all-around 13 consecutive times, but did not appear in the Wolverines” lineup for the floor and vault on Sunday.
“The most important thing to do right now is to rest my heel,” Ray said. “We had a couple people injured, and the rest of the team stepped right in and did a wonderful job for us.”
Ray had tied for fourth in the all-around at the Maui Invitational with teammates Calli Ryals and Kallie Steffes.
The injuries may have proved beneficial for Ryals, who emerged from the wounded Michigan roster to win her first career all-around title.
The sophomore posted a score of 38.925 which included a first-place finish on the uneven bars, and a first-place tie on the vault with Grieco and Steffes.