You see them right as you walk into the Donald R. Shepard Gymnastics Center in Ann Arbor. The huge Big Ten championship trophies consume an entire wall’s worth of shelf space. The Michigan women’s gymnastics team is a bona fide dynasty in the Big Ten, and it doesn’t let you forget it.

The only jewel missing on this necklace of victories is the 2006 conference title when Michigan placed fourth. Except for that loss, the Wolverines have captured every other Big Ten Championship since 1992.

Michigan will defend its four consecutive Big Ten titles (2007-10) this Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn. But this year is different — seven freshmen make up almost half of the women’s gymnastics team this year, making it one of the biggest recruiting classes in 20 years.

“We weren’t sure what we were able to expect of these incoming freshman, and we did have a slower start with some of them,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said.

But now, many of the team’s new faces have become an integral part of Michigan’s successful season so far. Freshman Shelby Geis has played a key role in team competition this year, as the leadoff gymnast in the uneven bars and on the balance beam.

According to Plocki, another freshman, Stephanie Colbert, has given a “dynamic performance on the floor and vault events” during this season.

Despite solid performances in previous meets this season, the Wolverines are wiping the slate clean to prepare for the Big Ten Championships at the end of this week.

“It’s a blessing and a curse (to be the Big Ten defending champions),” Plocki said. “I think that the seniors have given the freshmen confidence that this is our meet, we do well in this meet, but we go into it with a target on our backs.”

The team realizes it has an edge over its competition, but like any great team, it refuses to slack off in practice before one of the most important meets of the season.

“It’s tough having a young team because we don’t have much experience between the seven of us, but we also have five seniors on our team this year, so they provide that experience and advice and help prepare us for the challenges we will face,” freshman Teresa Arthur said.

Plocki has found that the potential disadvantages of having a team composed of almost 50 percent freshmen has been counteracted by the advice and wisdom passed down from the more experienced seniors.

“Our seniors are possibly the best five leaders that any team could ask for, so losing them (next year) will be a loss,” freshman Reema Zakharaia said. “But I think that they’ve prepared us better than anyone else could have for the situation next year, where we won’t have a senior class at all.”

Zakharia pointed to the noticeable void between the current senior and sophomore classes on the team. There are currently no juniors on the team, and with that knowledge, the performances of the seven freshmen at the Big Ten Tournament and any NCAA Tournament competition may set the new precedent for what to expect in the next four years of the program.

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