Despite suffering two setbacks on the balance beam during the final rotation Saturday night, the Michigan women”s gymnastics held off its competition long enough to win its third consecutive Big Ten title. With a score of 197.15, Michigan placed first among seven teams, beating out its closest competitor Penn State by .725 of a point. Although things became scary at the end of the meet, the Wolverines managed to capture their ninth title in the past 10 years.

Paul Wong
Karina Senior struggled on the beam, but scored well on the floor exercise to help her team win its third consecutive Big Ten Championship and ninth in ten years.<br><br>TOM FELDKAMP/Daily

“It”s really exciting,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “As many as we”ve won, it doesn”t get any less exciting for us. The competition tonight was outstanding. A lot of the teams were really strong, but it was really fun to be able to pull this one off in front of our home crowd. They were great.”

By the final rotation, it seemed as if Michigan held an insurmountable lead. With Penn State its closest competition already finishing with a 196.425, Michigan needed only a 48.125 or better on the balance beam to win the meet a score it was more than capable of getting.

After the initial three gymnasts hit on their routines, Karina Senior who had suffered a fall earlier on the uneven bars fell once again. Senior”s error required the final two gymnasts Shannon MacKenzie and Elise Ray to hit their routines so Michigan would not be forced to count a fall for the event. Mackenzie responded beautifully, performing a near perfect routine, winning the individual event title and relieving the pressure just a bit.

“I just kept telling myself that I knew how do it and to just do one thing at a time,” MacKenzie said. “I really try not to think about the pressure situations that I am in. I try to take myself back to the gym where we do lots of practice with pressure sets over and over.”

With Mackenzie”s routine out of the way, and only Ray left to compete, Michigan seemed to be home free. Ray, who was on her way to becoming all-around champion for the meet, had been flawless in all of her performances to that point. Still, with all that on the line, Ray suffered an uncharacteristic fall late in her routine, jeopardizing Michigan”s once comfortable lead.

“After that last fall, we were all terrified in the locker room,” senior Chrissy Michaud said. “Everyone was really silent, you could cut the tension with a knife. But now everything is a lot better.”

Despite the problems towards the end, the Wolverines received many dominating performances from their stars as well as role-players. Seniors Bridget Knaeble and Senior both recorded a 9.95 on the floor exercise to begin the meet for the Wolverines, tying for second overall.

Michaud continued her dominance on the vault, winning the event with a 9.95.

“I was really nervous because I had a terrible warm-up and I was worried that I wouldn”t even make it over the horse,” Michaud said. “But, Bev told me to put it on “auto-pilot” and not think about it so much, so I stopped thinking and just ran.”

The uneven bars was dominated by Knaeble who won the event with a 9.975.

“It was extremely exciting for me,” Knaeble said. “We already had a fall so we knew we couldn”t have another one. It is great when you land and you know that you had a great routine and you could hear the crowd cheering.”

Handing out awards: After the meet, Big Ten all-conference awards were handed out. Penn State star Katie Rowland took home the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year award. Knaeble was among the five nominees for the prestigious award.

Iowa”s Alexis Maday, who was all-around champion for the meet, was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, beating out several talented gymnasts, including Michigan”s Ray.

Although they did not bring home any individual awards, nine Wolverines were named to the Big Ten all-conference team.

“It feels good knowing that you are at the top of the heap in the Big Ten,” Michaud said. “It”s a very competitive conference, and it feels good to know that I am there along with many of my teammates.”

Michigan will return to action in two weeks when it hosts NCAA regional championships at Crisler Arena on April 7. The Wolverines still feel that they have much they can improve on before their next challenge.

“We really nailed our landings this meet, but there is so much we can still do,” Michaud said. “We can point our toes, bend our knees better, stick every landing. Especially on the beam we can really improve. We have the potential to do better, and its nice to know that we are on our way.”

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