This Week in Michigan Women's Gymnastics #7
MGOBLUE Talia Chiarelli
MGOBLUE
Talia Chiarelli
MGOBLUE

Feb. 19, 2014

The All-Around with Austin Sheppard | M Magazine: Sachi Sugiyama Q&A

THIS WEEK
Perfect 10 Challenge
Friday, Feb. 21
-- vs. No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 5 Alabama, West Virginia (Oklahoma City, Okla.), 7 p.m. CST

Follow the Meet: Live Results | Twitter Updates | TV: Fox Sports Southwest+, FCS-Central
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The No. 7-ranked University of Michigan women's gymnastics team (9-0, 4-0 Big Ten) closes out its three-meet road trip with its toughest challenge to date, as it competes against No. 1 Oklahoma (6-2), No. 5 Alabama (5-2) and West Virginia (5-4) at the Perfect 10 Challenge on Friday (Feb. 21) inside the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City, Okla. The meet will begin at 7 p.m. CST.

The meet will be shown live on Fox Sports Southwest+ and FCS-Central. Bart Conner (play-by-play) and Kelly Garrison-Funderburk (analyst) will be on the call. [ Channel Listings (via SoonerSports.com) | Cable Providers (for FCS-Central) ]

RANKINGS
The Wolverines are at No. 7 in this week's GymInfo/Troester rankings (196.650), up one spot from last week. On the events, Michigan is ranked eighth on both uneven bars (49.138) and floor exercise (49.254), ninth on vault (49.254) and 11th on balance beam (49.004). Three individuals appear in the rankings, led by senior Joanna Sampson, who is sixth nationally in the all-around (39.471).

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 197.446, Oklahoma 196.650 (7)
Vault 49.495, Utah 49.254 (9)
Uneven Bars 49.432, Georgia 49.138 (8)
Balance Beam 49.275, Florida 49.004 (11)
Floor Exercise 49.430, Utah 49.254 (8)
  NCAA LEADER MICHIGAN (NATIONAL RANK)
All-Around 39.575, Bridget Sloan, Florida 39.471, Joanna Sampson (6)
Vault 9.933, Bridget Sloan, Florida 9.896, Austin Sheppard (T-16)
9.879, Joanna Sampson (T-21)
Uneven Bars 9.940, Georgia Dabritz, Utah 9.855, Natalie Beilstein (T-24)
Balance Beam 9.917, Sam Peszek, UCLA 9.833, Joanna Sampson (23)
Floor Exercise 9.950, Kytra Hunter, Florida 9.921, Joanna Sampson (9)

OPPONENT PREVIEW

Oklahoma
The Sooners are 6-2 on the season and are coming off their second-highest score in program history (198.175) in a first-place finish at the Metroplex Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas, last Saturday (Feb. 15). The only two losses this season for Oklahoma came to #2 Florida (Jan. 31) and #3 LSU (Feb. 9). Last season, Oklahoma was runner-up at the NCAA Championships. The Sooners are led by 2013 Big 12 Gymnast of the Year Taylor Spears, 2013 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Haley Scaman and 2013 NCAA All-Americans Erica Brewer, Madison Mooring and Rebecca Clark.

Series: Michigan is 7-8 all-time against Oklahoma. The Sooners have won five straight meetings in the series. The two teams last met in the regular season on Feb. 24, 2012, in Norman, with the Sooners winning, 197.225-196.300.

Alabama
The Crimson Tide is 5-2 on the season and is coming off back-to-back performances of 197.500 (Feb. 7 vs. Georgia, Feb. 14 at Auburn -- both wins). Alabama took third at the 2013 NCAA Championships (behind champion Florida and second-place Oklahoma). The Crimson Tide is led by senior Diandra Milliner, who tied for the national title on vault last season and was national runner-up on floor exercise to U-M's Joanna Sampson. In addition to Milliner, Alabama has several returning NCAA All-Americans, including Kim Jacob, Kayla Williams, Kaitlyn Clark, Lauren Beers and Sarah DeMeo.

Series: Michigan is 5-26-1 all-time against Alabama. The two teams last met in the regular season on March 4, 2011, in Ann Arbor (Alabama won 197.075-196.325). The Wolverines' last win in the series came at the 2001 NCAA Super Six, 197.275-196.550. All five of Michigan's wins in the series have come in the postseason. Alabama has won the last 12 meetings in the series.

West Virginia
The Mountaineers are 5-4 on the season and are coming off a 194.450-194.125 victory over Pittsburgh last Friday (Feb. 14) in Morgantown. West Virginia fields one of the youngest teams in the nation, as six freshmen and three sophomores dot the roster. The Mountaineers are led by seniors Hope Sloanhoffer and Amanda Carpenter.

Series: Michigan is 22-4 all-time against West Virginia. The two teams have met twice in each of the last two seasons, with Michigan winning all four meetings. The Wolverines have won 10 straight meetings in the series. Of the 26 meetings, 21 have come during the regular season.

NOTES

• The Wolverines' rotation for the Perfect 10 Challenge will be balance beam-floor exercise-vault-uneven bars.

• The Perfect 10 Challenge will be held on podium, which means all four apparatuses will be situated on an elevated surface from the floor. The NCAA Championships and Olympics are held on podium.

• The last time U-M faced a No. 1 team during the regular season was Feb. 17, 2012, vs. Utah (L, 196.050-194.850). Oklahoma is ranked No. 1 this week. The last time U-M faced Oklahoma during the regular season was Feb. 24, 2012, when the Sooners were No. 2.

• Michigan will meet Oklahoma, Alabama and West Virginia for the second consecutive year. Michigan, Oklahoma and Alabama were all in the same preliminaries session at the 2013 NCAA Championships, with Alabama (197.350, first) and Oklahoma (197.200, tie-second) advancing to Super Six ahead of Michigan (196.850, fourth). The Wolverines defeated West Virginia twice last season -- both meetings in Morgantown -- including NCAA Regionals, which Michigan won with a score of 196.725 (West Virginia finished fifth at 194.475).

• Michigan remains unbeaten (9-0) and ascended to the top of the Big Ten regular season standings (4-0) following last Friday's 196.650-196.125 victory over Nebraska. The Wolverines have won their last 13 regular-season competitions dating back to last season. Over that stretch, U-M is 20-0 and is averaging 196.882:

DATE OPPONENT(S) SCORE
Feb. 2, 2013 Iowa W, 196.675-195.200
Feb. 8, 2013 at Ohio State W, 196.925-196.250
Feb. 16, 2013 Penn State W, 197.375-196.700
Feb. 24, 2013 at West Virginia, Towson, New Hampshire 1st (196.925)
March 2, 2013 at Michigan State W, 197.300-194.875
March 10, 2013 at UCLA, California, Iowa State 1st (197.550)
March 16, 2013 Iowa State W, 196.825-195.125
Jan. 10, 2014 at Iowa State, Illinois State 1st (196.525)
Jan. 17, 2014 at North Carolina State, North Carolina, Towson 1st (196.800)
Jan. 25, 2014 Ohio State W, 197.325-195.200
Jan. 31, 2014 Michigan State W, 196.800-193.900
Feb. 7, 2014 at Illinois W, 195.800-195.575
Feb. 14, 2014 at Nebraska W, 196.650-196.125

• The Wolverines now have enough meets to calculate its regional qualifying score (RQS). The weekly rankings switch over to RQS beginning next Monday (Feb. 24). The RQS ranks teams and seeds them for NCAA Regionals, held April 5 at six different sites. 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. Michigan's RQS can be calculated based on the following meets:

1. 197.325 -- Jan. 25 vs. Ohio State (H)
2. 196.800 -- Jan. 17 at North Carolina State (A)
3. 196.800 -- Jan. 31 vs. Michigan State (H)
4. 196.650 -- Feb. 14 at Nebraska (A)
5. 196.525 -- Jan. 10 at Iowa State (A)
6. 195.800 -- Feb. 7 at Illinois (A)

The Wolverines' current RQS (196.515) is lower than its season average (196.650) because it has to count a score of 195.800 from Feb. 7 at Illinois. Michigan can drop that score and raise its RQS so long as it scores higher than that on Friday at the Perfect 10 Challenge.

• Senior Joanna Sampson has scored 39.000 or higher in 26 career meets, the ninth-best mark in program history. She needs to accomplish the feat four more times to tie Calli Ryals (2001-04) for eighth on the list. Sarah Curtis (2007-11) and Elise Ray (2001-05) are the program leaders with 40. Sampson also has won 46 career individual event titles.

• Freshman Nicole Artz competed as an all-arounder for the first time in her collegiate career at Nebraska. She took fourth, scoring 39.150. It was the first time this season that Michigan had multiple gymnasts in the all-around in the same meet. Artz has been one of the Big Ten's best freshmen through the first half of the season, collecting three Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors and scoring at-or-above 9.800 in 14 of her 18 routines (includes three scores of 9.900 on floor exercise).

• Fifth-year senior Natalie Beilstein returned to action at Nebraska after sitting out the previous week. She was back in her usual three events, scoring 9.875 on floor exercise (her first FX routine since Jan. 25 vs. Ohio State), 9.850 on vault and 9.775 on uneven bars.

• Through four meets, Michigan has scored above 49.000 in 18 of 24 rotations, while gymnasts have won 21 of 24 individual event titles. Joanna Sampson took first in the all-around and won floor exercise in the team's first five meets, but finished second in both events at Nebraska.

• Nearly half of Michigan's routines this year -- 67 of 144 (46.5 percent) have come from its senior class (Joanna Sampson, Natalie Beilstein, Shelby Gies, Reema Zakharia).

COACHES' CORNER

Bev Plocki
Head Coach

Q: Now that you've had a few days to reflect, recap that win at Nebraska and assess the team's performance.
A: I'm very proud of the team for remaining determined even though we were trailing at the halfway point of the meet. To close out the meet as strong as we did to solidify the win tells me a lot about the grit, determination and fight within this team. That being said, we're very much looking forward to this weekend. It's going to be a great test for us against some great competition. We feel ready.

Q: One of the things you wanted to see the team do midway through the meet was show some fight and toughness. Then they go out and have arguably their best floor exercise rotation of the year and finish the meet on balance beam without having a single fall. Did you feel they answered the call? How do you carry that over to this week?
A: Absolutely. I think it was our best floor performance. You can't judge your best performance based on the score, because if we had performed that way or the week before in other meets around the country that I've seen judged on TV, the outcomes would have been significantly different. We've been able to use it as an advantage, too. It's pushed us harder to get better.

Q: One of the things that make Friday's meet unique is the fact that it will be on podium. Talk about how competing on an elevated surface can be different than normal and the advantages that go along with being able to have a meet on podium during the regular season.
A: We wanted to be a part of this because it gave us a chance to be on podium. It's a little bit bouncier than regular surfaces, but most athletes love that. It's more forgiving on ankles, shins, knees and all that. I think they're going to enjoy competing there and it's going to give us experience on a podium during the regular season, which will come in handy by the time nationals roll around.

Q: You've talked about looking at every meet as a challenge and this Friday's meet is probably the biggest challenge to date for this team. Oklahoma and Alabama, in particular, are two of the best teams in the country and going up against such high-level competition forces you to raise your game, as well, doesn't it?
A: Yes. No question. I think our team is more than ready to embrace that challenge.

Q: This will be the last road meet until the postseason. What have you learned most about your team during these last couple of weeks?
A: I like going on the road because it's a chance for all of us to get to know each other a lot better and spend time outside the gym. For me, it's an opportunity to get to know our freshmen a whole lot better. This team has bonded. Our chemistry is fabulous. We all like being around each other and that's a very positive thing.

LAST TIME OUT
Michigan remained undefeated and ascended to the top of the Big Ten regular season standings following a 196.650-196.125 victory over then-No. 7 Nebraska in Lincoln last Friday (Feb. 14). [ Recap ]

UP NEXT
Friday, Feb. 28
-- vs. Kent State, vs. BYU (Crisler Center), 7 p.m.

OTHER RELATED LINKS
The All-Around (Tuesday)

Contact: Brad Rudner (734) 763-4423