This Week in Michigan Women's Gymnastics #5
MGOBLUE Sachi Sugiyama
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Sachi Sugiyama
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Feb. 3, 2014

Coach Plocki on WTKA | The All-Around with Brooke Parker

THIS WEEK
Friday, Feb. 7
-- at No. 14 Illinois (Champaign, Ill.), 7 p.m. CST
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The No. 6-ranked University of Michigan women's gymnastics team (7-0, 2-0 Big Ten) begins a three-week road trip on Friday (Feb. 7), starting with a dual meet at No. 14 Illinois (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) in Champaign, Ill. The meet will begin at 7 p.m. CST inside Huff Hall.

RANKINGS
Michigan fell two spots to No. 6 in this week's GymInfo/Troester rankings (196.863), dropping two tenths off their scoring average from last week. The Wolverines are the top-ranked team in the Big Ten and also rank first in two events (vault, uneven bars).

On the events, Michigan is fourth on uneven bars (49.269) and seventh on vault (49.281), balance beam (49.050) and floor exercise (49.263). Individually, Joanna Sampson is tied for second in the all-around (39.519) and is ranked on all four events: tied for fifth on floor exercise (9.925), 18th on uneven bars (9.869), tied for 18th on balance beam (9.850) and tied for 24th on vault (9.875). Three others appear in the rankings, led by Austin Sheppard, who is third on vault (9.925). Natalie Beilstein is tied for 13th on uneven bars (9.875), and Reema Zakharia is tied for 20th on floor exercise (9.875).

The rankings, which are determined by season scoring average, are released every Monday. The rankings will switch over to Regional Qualifying Score (RQS) on Monday, Feb. 24. The top 36 teams in the rankings will advance to one of six regional sites on Saturday, April 5 (at Minnesota, Georgia, Washington, LSU, Arkansas and Penn State), with 18 of those teams receiving a seed that is determined by RQS. A team's RQS is calculated by taking its six highest scores, three of which must be from road meets. The highest score is dropped and the remaining five are averaged. [ Rankings: Team | Individuals ]

  NCAA LEADER MICHIGAN (NATIONAL RANK)
Team Average 197.413, Florida 196.863 (6)
Vault 49.494, Utah 49.281 (7)
Uneven Bars 49.438, Georgia 49.269 (4)
Balance Beam 49.331, Florida 49.050 (7)
Floor Exercise 49.444, Florida 49.263 (7)
  NCAA LEADER MICHIGAN (NATIONAL RANK)
All-Around 39.544, Kytra Hunter, Florida 39.519, Joanna Sampson (T-2)
Vault 9.938, Bridget Sloan, Florida 9.925, Austin Sheppard (3)
9.875, Joanna Sampson (T-24)
Uneven Bars 9.933, Lindsey Cheek, Georgia 9.875, Natalie Beilstein (T-13)
9.869, Joanna Sampson (18)
Balance Beam 9.925, McKenzie Wofford, Oklahoma
9.925, Sam Peszek, UCLA
9.850, Joanna Sampson (T-18)
Floor Exercise 9.956, Kytra Hunter, Florida 9.925, Joanna Sampson (T-5)
9.875, Reema Zakharia (T-20)

OPPONENT PREVIEW
Illinois
The Fighting Illini (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) come in at No. 14 in this week's rankings, averaging 195.831 this season. Their high score was 196.475, which was achieved in last Friday's win over Iowa. Through four competitions, Illinois is averaging nearly one point higher at home (196.325) than on the road (195.337). Its two highest-scoring events are floor exercise (49.100) and balance beam (48.988). Individually, Illinois is led by senior Amber See (averaging 39.169 in the all-around), junior event specialist Sunny Kato (averaging 9.869 on balance beam) and freshman Erin Buchanan (9.875 on floor exercise).

Series: Michigan is 48-9-1 all-time against Illinois. The two teams met head to head on three occasions last season, with the Wolverines coming out on top in the regular-season meeting (197.350-195.100 on Jan. 19), at the 2013 Big Ten Championships (197.225-196.475) and at the NCAA Morgantown Regional Championship (196.725-196.025). Illinois also made the NCAA Championships but was in a different session than Michigan. The Wolverines have won 38 consecutive head-to-head meetings in a streak that started in January 1991.

NOTES
• On Monday (Feb. 3), senior Joanna Sampson was named Big Ten Women's Gymnast of the Week, while sophomore Austin Sheppard was tabbed as Big Ten Event Specialist of the Week. It is Sampson's seventh career Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honor. Only three U-M gymnasts have recorded as many as Sampson: Elise Ray (nine), Lindsey Bruck (nine) and Kylee Botterman (seven).

• Both Joanna Sampson and Austin Sheppard came close to recording 10.0s last Friday (Jan. 31) vs. Michigan State, each scoring 9.975 (Sampson on uneven bars, Sheppard on vault). The last U-M gymnast to record a clean 10.0 score was Kylee Botterman, who did it twice in her career (Feb. 27, 2010 at Illinois and Feb. 13, 2011 vs. Stanford and Nebraska -- both on vault). Excluding Botterman, the last U-M gymnast to receive a 10.0 was Calli Ryals, who did it three times from 2001-04.

Joanna Sampson enters Friday's meet having won the all-around in her last eight regular-season meets, a stretch that started Feb. 16, 2013, vs. Penn State. Over that stretch, she is averaging 39.546 in the all-around, surpassing 39.600 or better in four of those meets. Sampson has surpassed 39.000 or greater in 24 career meets and now has 16 career all-around titles and 43 career individual event titles.

• The Wolverines scored 49.475 on uneven bars against Michigan State, their highest score on the apparatus since scoring 49.575 at UCLA on March 10, 2013. Since the start of last season, U-M has hit above 49.000 on uneven bars in 16 of 18 meets.

• The Wolverines had an off night on floor exercise against Michigan State. It was the first time since the 2012 Big Ten Championships that Michigan did not score at least 49.000 on the event, a span of 18 meets. It remains one of the team's best events, though, as 15 of the 24 routines have been scored at 9.850 or higher, including seven at 9.900 or higher.

Sophomore Austin Sheppard has won or tied for the vault title in five consecutive regular-season meets, a streak that started last March against Iowa State (March 16, 2013). She has scored 9.900 or better every time, matching her total from all of last season.

• Michigan's two freshmen -- Nicole Artz and Talia Chiarelli -- have proven to be among the best in the Big Ten through the first third of the season, especially on balance beam. Chiarelli is fourth on balance beam (9.831), while Artz is fifth (9.825).

• From a scoring standpoint, Michigan's trend in scoring is nearly identical to last season:

  2013 2014
First Meet 196.575 196.525
Second Meet 196.900 196.800 (+.275)
Third Meet 197.350 197.325 (+.525)
Fourth Meet 196.775 196.800
Fifth Meet 196.675 Friday at Illinois

• Through four meets, Michigan has scored above 49.000 in 13 of 16 rotations, while gymnasts have won 15 of 16 individual event titles and all four all-around crowns (Joanna Sampson).

COACHES' CORNER

Bev Plocki
Head Coach

Q: Recap last Friday's win over Michigan State. It started out well, but the finish had to be disappointing. What lesson was learned most coming out of that meet?
A: Finishing. We had a great meet started. I think we got to floor and relaxed a little bit. It's a great event for us and our team knows that. I think we learned that you just can't go on autopilot. I think we relaxed more than we should have. You can't ever take anything for granted. You have to finish with the same intensity as when we started.

Q: Another new situation, at least for this season, was on balance beam, as the team had to cope with a fall in the middle of the rotation. How did you think they responded?
A: One of the hardest things to do is be the person who goes up after the fall and get the team back on track. In that sense, I was extremely proud of Reema. She is finally, as a senior, starting to relax and be confident in her own routine. We talk all the time about how your individual performance should not be affected by what somebody else has done. She did a great job getting us back on track. Jo is Jo. Her routine was beautiful. And Briley finished us off. The reason she's in that sixth spot is because she has the competitive experience at a high level to be able to handle that kind of pressure. She's got this ability to go within herself and do what she needs to do without letting anything affect her. She had one wobble after her flight series, but stood on and hit the routine. All three of those young ladies did a great job of getting up and hitting routines after a fall.

Q: Competing on the road is hard in any sport and now you start a stretch where the next three meets take place away from Ann Arbor. That's obviously important for your team's RQS. Does the pressure get ramped up knowing that not only are these meets extremely important for your postseason standing, but also knowing who you're facing during that stretch?
A: I know it's totally a part of what we do, but I don't like using the word 'pressure'. We have been talking about pressure instead as an opportunity. We want to embrace the challenge and get fired up for it so we're in the best spot to go out and take those challenges head on. We've been a team that has historically done a good job on the road. We're looking forward to doing that. We're not concentrating on anything other than what opportunities are in front of us.

Q: Your freshmen -- Nicole and Talia -- continue to perform like upperclassmen. How impressed have you been at how they've been able to adapt to the college scene?
A: I think they've done a great job. They've adapted very, very well. Nicole is like a sponge. She just seems to be taking it all in and embracing whatever has come along. She's just loving life. They're both great kids and as a coach, they're two people you want to have in your gym. Talia has a little more of that competitive experience and I think that helps Nicole very much. They're very close and I think it's very good that they have each other because they feed off each other so well.

Q: One-third of the season is done. Thoughts on where the team is at compared to where you've been in years past? And do you like where you're at?
A: I do. Obviously we slipped a few spots in the rankings, but things are so incredibly close right now, we just need to focus on ourselves and keep improving. If we can take care of our own business, the rankings will take care of themselves. We're hungry. We see the opportunities that we have in front of us and we're anxious to go out there and get after it.

LAST TIME OUT
In front of nearly 3,000 fans in the program's first-ever Autism Awareness Meet, Michigan downed in-state rival Michigan State, 196.800-193.900, last Friday (Jan. 31) inside Crisler Center. [ Recap | Photo Gallery Photo | Highlights video icon ]

UP NEXT
Friday, Feb. 14
-- at Nebraska (Lincoln, Neb.), 6 p.m. CST (TV: Big Ten Network)

OTHER RELATED LINKS
The All-Around (Tuesday)

Contact: Brad Rudner (734) 763-4423