On a night that was expected to showcase an individual, the Michigan women”s gymnastics team made a statement.
Former Olympian and Michigan freshman Elise Ray made her debut for the Wolverines on Friday night. With Ray in the lineup, No. 11 Michigan scored 196.200 to pound No. 21 Iowa and No. 9 Minnesota, which scored 194.100 and 193.675, respectively. The win served notice to the Big Ten conference that, when this team is firing on all cylinders, it is tough to beat.
“It was an awesome night,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “Our goal every year is to not lose a meet within the conference, and both these teams that we beat tonight are very reputable programs.”
Ray led the way for the Wolverines with a second place all-around finish. Competing for the first time since the end of the Summer Olympics, Ray scored a 39.175 bested only by Iowa”s Alexis Maday with a 39.250.
“I had a blast,” Ray said of her first Michigan competition. “I was really nervous going in, but all of the girls were really supportive.”
But the debut of Ray did not take the spotlight away from the rest of the team. With solid performances across the board, the Wolverines again displayed their incredible depth.
Senior tri-captain Bridget Knaeble won the uneven bars with a 9.900 and tied teammate Calli Ryals for victory on the floor exercise, each posting 9.925 marks.
Shannon MacKenzie and Janessa Greico captured the other two individual event titles for Michigan. MacKenzie scored a 9.900 on the balance beam, while Greico was awarded a 9.850 on vault.
“I think we”re really excited” with the performance, Greico said. “We still had a couple of problems, but we stayed upbeat. We have a lot of talent on this team.”
A crowd of 2,134 packed into 1,800-seat Cliff Keen Arena for Michigan”s first Big Ten meet of the year. It was an impressive turnout that was only matched by the team”s impressive performance.
“The crowd was incredible,” Plocki said. “I had a good feeling about tonight, and I really felt that things would begin to come together.”
In addition to the win, there”s little question that Ray”s debut added extra emotion to the evening. She was unable to compete in the first two meets, and everyone involved with the team was anxious to see what she would be able to add.
“I”m happy with how I did,” Ray said. “There”s always places to improve, but I”m happy.”
The question for Michigan now is whether it can continue to perform at a high level like it did on Friday night.
“We”re absolutely proud of tonight,” Ray said. “We have to keep getting better and that”s what we did.”