Brandon's Blog: Hashtag Helps Gymnastics Teams Focus on NCAAs
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April 17, 2013

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.

It was not created to become a trending topic on Twitter, but #MGymDynasty should get more mentions this week.

Developed by men's assistant gymnastics coach Geoff Corrigan, the hashtag #MGymDynasty was created originally as a social media tool to remind today's generation of U-M student-athletes that to build a dynasty they must work every day toward one of the team's central core objectives: winning championships.

This hashtag has evolved into a communication tool allowing fans to join in the social network conversation about U-M gymnastics. This weekend, it could even be more appropriate as both Michigan gymnastics teams compete for an NCAA championship, with the men travelling to State College, Pa., and the women flying to Los Angeles.

The men are ranked No. 3 in the nation and the women are No. 7. They know there is a fine line between all the top teams.

Let's start with the men. This is a truly exceptional team. It has a tremendous amount of talent and unbelievable senior leadership.

When the Wolverine men's gymnastics team won its last NCAA championship in 2010, it had only one individual with international experience (Chris Cameron). This year's squad has four in Sam Mikulak, Syque Caesar, Adrian de los Angeles and Stacey Ervin. It isn't every day a team has four individuals with such an extensive resume.

Mikulak and Caesar both participated in the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, while de los Angeles just qualified for the USA National Team in March by placing second in the Winter Cup.

This team is hitting its stride. Two weeks ago, U-M won the Big Ten title behind an NCAA record-setting 15.95 performance on parallel bars from Mikulak and a 1-2 finish by Mikulak and de los Angeles in the all-around competition.

The Michigan men aren't a "one-hit wonder" either. Since 1961, U-M has won more conference championships (16) than any other Big Ten school and has added four NCAA titles -- two with legendary coach Newt Loken at the helm and another two with current head coach Kurt Golder.

For the women, the history of the sport at U-M has also been impressive. Since women's gymnastics was recognized officially by the NCAA in 1982, the Wolverines have won 19 of the 31 Big Ten titles -- and 18 of those championship efforts have taken place since 1992, two years after current head coach Bev Plocki took over.

Plocki has taken the team to the NCAA Regionals in 22 of the last 24 years. After winning an NCAA Regional title two weeks ago in Morgantown, W.Va., U-M is one of 12 teams making the trip to the championship in Los Angeles this week. The competition will be difficult.

While the Wolverine women are the Big Ten standard, there are only four programs since 1982 that have won the NCAA championship: Alabama, Georgia, UCLA and Utah. Similar to when Michigan softball became the first team east of the Mississippi River to break the West's dominance, Plocki's team would like nothing better than to become the fifth.

This team is unparalleled in that it has fought back from one of the toughest years the program has encountered in the last three decades.

Captains Katie Zurales and Joanna Sampson are the leaders. They account for only one-third of the routines. Following last year's struggles, the entire team made a commitment to improve, and they did that by working as a team.

When the women perform this weekend, 22 of the 24 routines will come from upperclassmen, essentially the same team as a year ago. The members of this team committed themselves to challenge for an NCAA title, and now they have placed themselves in a position to do just that.

Even though the men and women teams are comprised of gymnasts, the two sports are unique.

In competition, they are judged differently. The women have four events while the men have six events.

While 10 to 15 percent of the men go on to postgraduate and some international competition, the women's careers are near the end.

At the NCAA Championships, the women will perform in front of much larger crowds than the men. However, Olympian Mikulak has more individual Twitter followers -- almost 80,000 -- than any of other student-athletes in all varsity sports, including football and basketball.

While they are vastly different sports in certain areas, they are the same in one respect. Both of these Michigan teams are extremely successful, ranked at or near the top each and every year, and that places them in elite company. That alone is remarkable.

#MGymDynasty wasn't necessarily created to give U-M gymnastics fans a chance to participate in a conversation about our teams, but if you follow either team, this hashtag will give you a chance to follow all the action and remind everyone that both of these teams represent a history of athletic and academic excellence.

I have to admit, #MGymDynasty does have a satisfying ring to it.

Good luck to both teams this weekend as they compete to bring home NCAA national championships for the Maize and Blue.

Go Blue!

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