LOS ANGELES — The mood Saturday night before the NCAA
women’s gymnastics individual event finals was light. In
warmups, Michigan junior Elise Ray played tag with members of the
UCLA team on the floor mat, and coaches and competitors from all
teams chatted freely.

It was a stark difference from the atmosphere on Thursday, when
the Wolverines competed in the preliminaries, hoping to qualify for
the Super Six team competition the following day. Michigan drew the
most difficult rotation for the second meet in a row, and it failed
to qualify in the preliminary meet that featured perennial
powerhouses UCLA, LSU, Utah and Alabama.

The disappointment of Thursday was forgotten momentarily as
Michigan cheered on teammates Ray and Lindsey Bruck. Both competed
in the balance beam event final. Ray — who was the
event’s national champion in 2002 — led off the event
and scored a 9.900, which was good enough to tie for third. Bruck
followed up with a solid 9.850 performance, which earned her a tie
for sixth place.

Ray also qualified for the uneven bars, an event she excelled at
during the regular season despite having just recovered from a
shoulder injury the year before. She earned a 10.0 on the event at
the Big Ten Championships, and in the NCAA event finals, she nearly
replicated that result. After adding a more complicated dismount to
her routine, Ray performed flawlessly, and half of the judges gave
her 10.0 scores. Her final averaged score was a 9.975, good enough
to earn Ray her third National Championship in four years.

“This means a lot to me because I had to sit out last
year,” Ray said. “I didn’t like it all Friday
sitting in the stands. I’m glad I can end on this

Bar scores weren’t nearly so high for Michigan on Thursday

The team tallied scores of 9.700 and 9.750, and there deductions
were taken because of steps during landings. Ray’s 9.925
performance anchored the rotation and allowed the Wolverines to
total a 49.025 on the event. But while the Wolverines struggled on
bars, Alabama and Utah were surging. Both teams boasted large
followings in Pauley Pavilion, which shouted “Roll Tide
Roll!” and “U-T-A-H — Utah!” after almost
every performance.

“We made our routines, but we counted so many deductions
on dismounts that it just kind of deflated us,” Michigan
coach Bev Plocki said.

Michigan had a decent start on floor, earning a 49.225 total.
The team tried to continue to build momentum on the vault.
Sophomore Jenny Deiley’s 9.900 lead the team, and the
Wolverines compiled a 49.150 score. After two events, Michigan
trailed second-place Utah by just a few tenths of a point.
Defending champion UCLA had jumped out to an early lead with a
two-event total of 99.000. But then Michigan had difficulty on the
bars. As a result, the Wolverines needed an exemplary score on
their fourth and final rotation to get past the Utes and the
Crimson Tide for second or third place.

“I thought that we came out and did the best job that we
could on floor and vault,” Plocki said. “I thought we
had a lot of momentum going in to bars. We just kind of lost our
momentum on bars.”

Unfortunately, the Wolverines ended the night on the balance
beam, an event that is nerve-wracking enough by itself without any
added pressure that comes with the last event.

And the pressure piled on even higher after sophomore Becca
Clauson fell off the beam during Michigan’s third routine.
Deiley, senior Calli Ryals and Ray anchored the lineup without a
fall, but small mistakes again added up to a lower score than the
Wolverines needed. They were the kind of small mistakes that
Alabama and Utah just weren’t making.

“We didn’t have to count any falls on beam but we
had a couple of wobbles,” Plocki said.

“I just think we didn’t keep our momentum

Failing to qualify for the Super Six for just the third time in
the last 10 years meant that Michigan found itself in an unfamiliar
position — sitting in the stands, watching as UCLA cruised to
its fourth team national championship in five years.

“Overall, we did well,” Plocki said. “But this
is a national championship, and you have to do great.”

Assistant coach Scott Sherman emphasized the significance of the
missed landings that plagued the Wolverines.

“Good teams make their routines,” Sherman said.
“Great teams make their routines and stick their landings. We
didn’t stick our landings.”

Luckily the Wolverines didn’t have to end on a bad

“Not making the Super Six was a disappointment for our
whole team, and to be able to come back in the finals was
great,” Plocki said. “For Elise to get another national
championship was fantastic. This ends it all on a positive

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