In her 23rd year of coaching the Michigan women’s gymnastics team, Bev Plocki knows about winning. Her teams have gone 571-202-2, won 18 Big Ten championships, eight NCAA Regional championships, and made 10 NCAA Super Six appearances. She’s coached 146 All-American first- or second-team athletes, and been named Big Ten Coach of the Year 10 times.
To put it simply, Bev Plocki is a winner.
So when Plocki says the Wolverines will be fine after losing junior Natalie Beilstein, it’s easy to believe her.
“They’re fighters, and so I have every confidence in the world that we will be able to pull things together and have a successful season,” Plocki said.
Beilstein, who suffered an ankle injury in Michigan’s win over Minnesota on Saturday, will miss the remainder of the 2012 season, as confirmed by the Michigan athletic department on Tuesday.
“It’s a major blow, I’m not going to lie,” Plocki said. “It’s definitely going to affect us. We’ve got to pull together as a team and step up to the plate and take the attitude that what doesn’t kill us will only make us stronger.”
Not only is Beilstein a two-time All-American on the floor routine, but she is also a team leader, one of just three juniors on this year’s senior-less squad. In the season opener against Ohio State, Beilstein recorded two career-high scores on uneven bars (9.800) and floor (9.925). Last week against Minnesota, she tied for first on bars before suffering the injury during her floor routine.
“She’s actually taken it pretty well,” said junior captain Katie Zurales. “(Though) I think she was kind of upset and pretty shocked to find out that her Achilles is gone.”
Despite losing one of its best athletes, the Michigan squad remains confident in its youth and determination.
“We still have enough talent on this team, and we’re still going to be awesome this year — we just need to stay positive and keep believing,” Zurales said.
Plocki is an experienced leader, and she and her staff have already begun the necessary preparations to move forward without Beilstein. While Beilstein’s injury was unfortunate and unexpected, it creates an opportunity for several other Wolverines to step up and contribute to the undefeated squad.
Plocki expects sophomore Kristen Nagle to be an immediate contributor. Nagle, the only Michigan native on the team, has yet to compete for the Wolverines in her collegiate career and is expected to be in the lineup for the first time on Friday against Illinois.
“This is a great opportunity for Kristen,” Zurales said. “She hasn’t gotten to compete for us yet, so it’ll be really awesome to see her in the floor lineup and hopefully on vault.”
Michigan has been strong this season on vault and floor, despite its struggles last week against Minnesota. Now, the Wolverines will look to freshman Annette Miele to fill the void on the uneven bars.
Miele made her collegiate debut on balance beam against Ohio State, but she is expected to be in the bar lineup this week. Plocki is also planning to slowly incorporate both Miele and sophomore Reema Zakharia into lineups as the season progresses.
“We definitely need (Miele) to step up and be there for her team,” Plocki said. “I’m looking for a lot out of her.”
“By the middle point of the season, if we can get Annette back in on floor, beam, and bars, and if we can get Reema back in the lineup for vaulting, I think we’ll be fine.”
Zakharia, who suffered an elbow injury in the fall, competed on beam and floor in both of Michigan’s competitions this season.
The Wolverines are no strangers to overcoming hurdles. Last week, they rallied behind Zurales’ beam performance in their final rotation to edge out the Golden Gophers on the road. Going forward, Zurales is confident that the rest of Michigan’s season will be no different, even without Beilstein.
“I told the team after the meet, ‘If we can hit beam and if we can get through that rotation at that kind of meet, we can hit anytime,’ ” Zurales said. “That should just boost our confidence to know we’re mentally and physically strong enough to get through anything now.”
As for Plocki, she too is prepared to continue Michigan’s undefeated record and make a return to the Super Six in April.
“I’ve had years in the past where we’ve had smaller teams or we’ve had a lot of injuries,” Plocki said. “I think when your back is up against the wall, that’s when you find out what kind of team you have.
“We have always had teams that have come out and end up having a good season despite whatever has been thrown at us. I think this team will be no different.”