April 11, 2017
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- University of Michigan women's gymnastics sophomores Olivia Karas and Emma McLean didn't get a chance to compete on the national stage as freshmen so are chomping at the bit for this weekend's NCAA Semifinals in St. Louis, Missouri.
"I am beyond thrilled," said Karas. "I personally have dreamt about this moment."
It is a moment Karas and McLean had to wait an extra year to experience after missing out on a trip to the NCAA Championships by just .050 points last year. After entering the NCAA Regional with a high level of excitement in 2016, the season came an anticlimactic ending for the sophomores as neither of them experienced their first NCAA Championship.
Three U-M gymnasts, Nicole Artz, Brianna Brown and Talia Chiarelli, represented the team in Fort Worth, Texas, but it wasn't the same. The three came back and told the team how depressing it was without their teammates there to share the experience. The talk motivated the entire team to make sure that didn't happen this season.
"It was sad," said Karas. "Emma and I watched from home, and it was hard. We put in the work to make sure that didn't happen again. This year, we don't have to watch because we will be there."
The 2017 team got off to a slow start but got better and better as the season went along. Now they have scored more than a 197.000 in six straight meets, including a 197.350 to win the NCAA Morgantown Regional and punch their ticket to St. Louis with the third-highest score in any NCAA Regional.
"Our postseason and the meets leading up to it has helped our confidence grow and grow," said McLean. "A tough start made us stronger because we bounced back from it, and now we are peaking at the right time. It is all coming together like we knew it would."
That moment when the team knew it was advancing was an unforgettable moment. Of the 12 gymnasts on the team, eight had never been to a NCAA Championships, and nine had never competed in one as junior Lauren Marinez was out during the team's fourth-place finish in the NCAA semifinals in 2015.
"It was a very emotional moment," said Karas. "It was a sigh of relief, but we also got super hyped up. I texted Nico (Nicole Artz) on the following Monday and told her I had never been more excited for gymnastics in my entire life."
It was a shame for Karas to not have the opportunity to compete on the big stage a year ago. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Karas finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the nation on vault, No. 7 on floor and No. 10 in the all-around, but she didn't have the opportunity to compete with the other top gymnasts in the country.
However, missing out on that chance has given her a different perspective this year. She wants to make sure she doesn't take anything for granted.
"My maximum of these right now is three," said Karas. "I am going to make sure I get the maximum experience and take in every moment. We get to compete on the podium again, which is my favorite thing. It is exciting and will be a meet I remember forever."
Karas is once again having a fantastic season, ranking 19th on vault and 23rd in the all-around. Now, McLean has joined her among the elite gymnasts in the country. McLean is ranked tied for ninth on vault and tied for 20th on floor. She has won vault in five of the last six meets since upgrading to a Yurchenko 1 1/2, including taking home Big Ten and NCAA Regional titles. She has also scored a 9.900 or better on floor in each of the last six meets.
Her consistency has been something she has really focused on to give her all to the team.
"It makes me proud of myself because I do work really hard in the gym so I can be that consistent," said McLean. "I focus on small things that helps with my confidence at meets. It is now or never, and we will be giving everything we have left. I think we are capable of really big things."
It will take a team effort, but that is how they all want it. They want to do it together, as a team.
"Everyone has such a drive right now, and we all have something to prove," said Karas. "This team has so much energy, drive and passion, and these two seniors deserve to go to the Super Six. We want to take them there."
The Wolverines will compete in the second NCAA semifinal session on Friday (April 14) at 7 p.m. CDT. Fans can watch them live on ESPNU and ESPN3. The meet will then switch from ESPNU to ESPN at 8 p.m. CDT.