The only Big Ten team that is even remotely close to being a rival to the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team is No. 12 Minnesota, and the Gophers are coming to Cliff Keen Arena tonight. The Wolverines (1-0 Big Ten, 1-0 overall) have dominated the Big Ten for close to a decade, with Minnesota being the only team that has come close to challenging the throne. The Wolverines have reeled off 39 straight conference victories with their last loss coming to the Gophers in 1999.
But the rivalry goes beyond the regular season. Recently, Michigan has been able to pull in some elite recruits out of Minnesota after both schools recruited the gymnasts heavily. The Wolverines have two freshman standouts, Becca Clauson and Big Ten Athlete of the Week Jenny Deiley, who are both from Minnesota. With another recruit, Carol McNamara, on the way, it’s safe to say that the Gophers are not happy.
“The fact that we’ve gotten several very good Minnesota recruits has only fueled the fire I’m sure,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “But we try really not to think about that; we can’t worry about the things that we can’t control.”
Especially drawing the Gophers’ ire was that Clauson verbally committed to the Gophers, but due to some circumstances, decided to come to Michigan.
“Another girl had my scholarship here, and she ended up going to Stanford,” Clauson said. “I’ve always wanted to come to Michigan.”
During high school, Clauson and Deiley talked to each other about becoming Wolverines, despite being on different club teams. Deiley had already committed when Clauson was making her decision.
“We kind of went through the process together, we talked about it with each other,” Clauson said. “And actually, when I got my offer to Michigan, I called her, and I was like, ‘Ahh, what should I do?’ ”
Both Deiley and Clauson know almost all of the girls on the Minnesota team, but both felt that Michigan was the place for them.
“I love both teams, but I really wanted to go away for college,” Deiley said. “I loved the team when I came here.”
Minnesota (0-0 Big Ten, 0-1 overall) will present a stiff challenge for the Wolverines. The Gophers are returning nine gymnasts from last year’s team, which finished ninth at the NCAA Championships. Although the Wolverines beat Minnesota three times last year, they came within one wobble of losing during their regular-season dual match. The Wolverines needed a stellar beam routine to pull the victory out by one tenth of a point.
“Minnesota is going to be a great matchup for us right now,” Plocki said. “We’re going to need to focus on some of our dismounts, (and) we can be a little bit more aggressive in some things.”
All of this adds up to facing a Minnesota team that will be ready to compete tonight.
“They never have a lack of motivation when it comes to competing against Michigan,” Plocki said. “(But) whatever Minnesota’s motivation or lack of motivation really can’t concern us; we just have to go out there and do our job.”
Deiley will look to duplicate last week’s performance, in which she won the all-around in her first meet as a freshman – something that no Wolverine has done since Heather Kabnick did it on Jan. 14, 1995.
Being at home will be an advantage for Michigan, which has one Big Ten win already. Performing with consistency and perfecting the little things have been stressed throughout this week. Deiley hopes the team will do just that when she competes against her friends.
“Three of my old teammates that were my best friends are on that team,” Deiley said. “It’ll be different competing against them instead of with them, but it’s all good.”