Jan. 6, 2009
By Larry Watts
The Battling Bottermans?
It would sure make a great storyline for Friday's opening night (7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network) of the Big Ten women's gymnastics schedule, when 16th-ranked Illinois and No. 8 Michigan head to East Lansing, Mich. to battle 17th-rated Michigan State.
But don't expect to see any hair-pulling or trash-talking in this confrontation. Both Marijka Botterman and her younger sister, Kylee, will be the first to tell anyone that they are "best friends," even if they are wearing leotards of different colors.
"That stuff is only in the movies, and you should stop watching those movies," Marijka says with a laugh.
If there is a skeleton hidden in either young lady's closet, neither one is talking. There's not even a stolen boyfriend to talk about.
Their biggest disagreement came a couple of years ago, when Kylee announced where she would be spending her collegiate gymnastics career. A stunned Marijka gave her younger sib the silent treatment for a week.
"I had always looked forward to her joining me at the University of Illinois, just like I had done with our older sister Danye," says Marijka, now a senior all-arounder with the Fighting Illini. "Danye (who is two years older than Marijka and also competed for the Illinois gymnastics team) led me around and made sure I didn't get lost or do some of the stupid things freshmen tend to do. I wanted to share that same experience with Kylee. It's hard to leave home for the first time and Danye had made that experience so much easier for me."
But Kylee, now a sophomore, had a different idea, especially after she made a visit to Ann Arbor, Mich.
"As soon as I hit the campus at Michigan, I knew this was it," she says. "The gym is amazing! The girls and coaches all made me feel right at home. And I love the historic feel of Ann Arbor.
"I had been to Champaign so many times to visit Danye and Marijka, but Michigan just seemed like the better fit. I wanted to do my own thing. My sisters were upset, but Danye was a little more understanding. It took Marijka a little longer to come around."
Friday's showdown in East Lansing marks only the second time the Bottermans have squared off against each other. After competing for the Gym-Kinetics Gymnastics Club and United Gymnastics Academy in Frankfort, Il., the New Lenox sisters competed for the first time in opposing uniforms at last year's Big Ten Championships in Ann Arbor.
Kylee helped lead the Wolverines to their 17th title in the past 19 years. A first-team All-Big Ten selection, she tied for first in floor exercise, tied for second on vault and tied for sixth on uneven bars. Marijka placed eighth in the all-around while tying for 10th in vault and balance beam.
"That meet was a lot of fun," says Marijka. "The entire family turned out. I didn't feel nervous at all because I just felt like I was performing in front of my family and no one else.
"I have to admit, I did catch myself a couple of times watching Kylee and forgetting to cheer for my own teammates. I just wanted to see her do so well."
However, last June's surgery for a torn labrum will keep Kylee off the uneven bars during the early part of this season.
"My shoulder is feeling pretty good right now, I'm almost ready to go," she says. "It did kind of cut back on my summer activities though."
The Botterman family likes to spend as much time as possible at a little get-away by a lake in South Bloomington. Their parents, Hank and Laurie, met as students at Illinois State University.
"We all like to do a lot of water sports, like skiing, tubing and wake boarding," Kylee says. "I had to stay away from the skiing because of my surgery."
"Our mother is a little crazy and she likes to speed up the boat so she can watch us flop around all over the place in those tubes," Marijka adds.
After the summer, Marijka and Kylee usually see other four or five times during the school year although they do call or text each other almost daily.
"We'll take road trips to each other's school four or five times when we're out of season," Marijka says.
Because of their training schedules, the sisters were only together for less than a week during Christmas. Kylee had to quickly get back to Ann Arbor to prepare for a New Year's meet in Cancun while Marijka drew the short straw and trained with her teammates back in Champaign.
"Hey, I had fun," Marijka counters. "I was with my teammates."
All three Botterman sisters are 5-foot-3 blondes (credit their father's Dutch heritage). So naturally, there is a lot of swapping of clothing and shoes.
"I can honestly tell you I have gone to my closet here in Urbana looking for a shirt and it wasn't here," Marijka says. "I know it must be in Ann Arbor."
"I'm sure a few of Marijka's things have made it up here, but I know I've got stuff in Urbana as well," Kylee says with a laugh.
If a clothing exchange is needed, they can always do it at this year's Big Ten Championships, which the University of Illinois will be hosting. But the only thing Marijka wants to see exchanged is the Big Ten title.
"It's our turn," the senior says. "They won it at their place last year and it's only right we win it in Huff Gym."
And that's as much trash talking as one will get from the Bottermans.