Jan. 27, 2012
University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page, mgoblue.com/brandon, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.
Injuries often play a key role in athletics. When an athlete in the starting lineup is injured, someone must step up to take his or her place. The more talented the athlete, the bigger the hole needed to be filled. Leadership, of course, is vital.
In the world of intercollegiate athletics, we talk about senior leadership. Players who have experienced the ups and downs know what it takes to motivate individuals. If there are no seniors, it doesn't mean a team is lacking leadership. It just means younger athletes must take on that role quicker.
This is what our U-M women's gymnastics team is now facing. This team has only 11 gymnasts, a relatively small number, and no seniors. There are three juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen on the roster. That number fell to 10 after junior Natalie Beilstein ruptured her Achilles performing her floor routine, an injury that will sideline her for the remainder of the season. Natalie is not only good, she is a two-time NCAA All-American and a Big Ten champion. She was one of Michigan's best individuals in three events: vault, uneven bars and floor exercise. Needless to say, this is a huge loss for our program.
In gymnastics, a team scores 20 of its 24 routines. Natalie comprised three of the 20 scores. And in each category, she was always one of the top performers.
Losing Natalie would be somewhat similar to a basketball team losing a guard and a forward. In gymnastics, you don't guard other players or try to find offensive match-ups. In sports' laymen terminology, there is no strategy for defense or offense against your opposition. You have control only over your own routine.
Now, multiple individuals will be needed to develop strengths in other routines. Physically, the fundamentals are there. The challenge for our coaching staff will be to refine those fundamentals and get the team mentally prepared to fill the void. This is what great gymnastics coaches and teams do -- and we have a great coach and a terrific team.
Coach Bev Plocki has noted that Natalie led by example, and her efforts in training and competition are lessons these women will follow as they look to take her place on the roster. She worked tirelessly to be one of the best gymnasts in the nation in the floor exercise. Her efforts will help this team understand that this isn't a blow to the Michigan team, it is an opportunity -- an opportunity for development, growth, and for others to step up.
The team is home for the next few weeks (Jan. 27 vs. Illinois, Feb. 3 vs. West Virginia) before heading back on the road. This will help them find their new comfort zone as they work to replace this All-American.
For sure, I am not an expert in the sport of gymnastics! The closest I came to connecting with this sport was during my college years at U-M when I took a class taught by the legendary Newt Loken. I do, however, understand leadership and I know the grit and determination of our student-athletes. I look forward to seeing this young team grow and strive to be the leaders and best throughout the 2012 season.
Good luck and Go Blue!