After topping Michigan State for the 2005-06 Pontiac Challenge Cup and emerging victorious against top-ranked Georgia in the past two weeks of its season, the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team looks to break its own record of seven straight Big Ten championships, as it competes for its eighth consecutive title at this year’s event, to be hosted this weekend by Michigan State.
Over the past 14 seasons, the Wolverines have won 13 Big Ten titles – the most in the history of the Big Ten conference.
The last non-Michigan team to win the Big Ten crown was Minnesota (1998). The Gophers’ win broke the Wolverines’ streak of six straight championships. After the loss, Michigan rebounded to break its previous record, winning seven in a row from 1998 to 2005.
In East Lansing, the Wolverines hope to preserve their winning streak against their Big Ten rivals. The last loss to a conference foe came at Iowa on Jan. 24, 2004.
As the team prepares for a record-breaking eight straight, it will look for consistency in excellence from its key individuals. Michigan realizes that in order to position itself for the chance to succeed at both the regional and national championships, each individual must be on the top of her game, ready to contribute to the team’s overall score.
Two-time and reigning South Central Regional bars champion, fifth-year senior Lauren Mirkovich, is the No. 1 Big Ten bars performer heading into the championships.
“This season is the same for me as every other year,” Mirkovich said. “This weekend is the first step to the nationals . and my main goal is to help this team (achieve) our big focus of winning regionals and succeeding at nationals.”
Junior Lindsey Bruck and sophomore Nellie Kippley, ranked first and third in the Big Ten, respectively, will lead the Wolverines on the balance beam. Both performers had their best results at the end of the season, with Bruck winning back-to-back events in the last two meets, and Kippley recording the three highest scores of her career in the last four meets.
Sophomore Katie Lieberman and senior Jenny Deiley have been Michigan’s top vaulters this season. Lieberman was an All-American in the event her freshman year and is ranked second in the Big Ten this season. Deiley, who with eight All-American honors is tied for fifth in Michigan gymnastics history, is ranked fifth in the conference with three All-American honors in the event.
Freshman Tatjana Thuener-Rego, the top floor performer, has proved herself a threat this year and is ranked fourth in the Big Ten. The instrumental freshman will follow the lead of two successful upperclassmen in the event, junior Carol McNamara and senior Becca Clauson. McNamara enters Big Tens strong after ending her best collegiate season by winning her first floor event last week against Michigan State. The most-favored Michigan performer going into the event is Clauson, the defending Big Ten Champion.
Theuner-Rego ranks No. 1 in the conference in the all-around and 21st in the nation. She is followed closely by teammates Bruck – ranked second in the Big Ten and 22nd nationally – and Deiley – third on the team and fourth in the Big Ten.
“Overall, we really stepped it up at the end of the season,” senior Mirkovich said. “We turned it around and are building on a fire and it is only going to get (bigger and) better.”
As the Wolverines compete in the Big Ten Championships this weekend, not only will the team try to win – they will try to preserve the legacy of Michigan women’s gymnastics.