The Michigan Wolverines will enter Iowa's Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, March 26th for the 2005 Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships as six-time defending champions. Having won 12 of the last 13 years, this year the Maize and Blue will meet some of its stiffest competition in both the team and individual events.
Michigan, currently ranked seventh in the nation, will need to outperform No. 11 Penn State to retain its title. In addition to the Nittany Lions, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are currently ranked 22nd, and three other schools are ranked in the top-25 in specific events.
Penn State and Michigan have secured seeded berths to the NCAA regionals and Minnesota and Iowa are virtual locks to receive bids to the regional competition. While Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois remain in contention, each school will need strong performances at the conference championships to move off of the bubble.
If their teams do not advance to the regionals individuals can earn berths into the event. Athletes are seeded based on a formula that incorporates five scores. The sum of the formula is the regional qualifying score (RQS). The formula takes a gymnast's highest six scores, with atleast three being from away events, removes the top-score, and averages the five remaining numbers to arrive at the RQS. If the three teams still looking to earn berths into the regionals do not qualify, they will likely each send two athletes into the meet.
The four inches of the balance beam will be hotly contested at the Big Ten Championships. Michigan's Elise Ray tops the conference ranking, posting a 9.905 RQS in the event; she is also ranked seventh in the nation on the beam. The defending Big Ten and 2002 NCAA champion in the event, she has won five beam titles this season and posted a 9.975 in the last regular season meet against Michigan State. Her teammate, sophomore Lindsey Bruck, should also contend for the top spot. Bruck has earned four beam titles of her own this season and last year, as a freshman, finished second to Ray for the Big Ten title. With an RQS of 9.880, she is ranked 13th in the country after the regular season. Ohio State senior Elizabeth Meaney will also figure into the mix. Her regional qualifying score of 9.870 puts her in 18th nationally in the event, and third in the conference. With eight beam titles this year to her credit and two more second-place showings, Meaney should show well in Iowa City. Led by Meaney, the Buckeyes are ranked 19th nationally on the balance beam. Michigan State junior Sarah Alexander also has had a productive year on the beam. Her RQS of 9.855 puts her fourth in the conference and comes on the strength of a season that saw Alexander, despite battling a shoulder injury, win three beam titles and finish in the top-five in five more meets. Senior Ashley Williams and sophomore Cara Pomeroy have led the Illinois team to a No. 23 ranking on the balance beam this season.
The floor exercise has been one of the most competitive events during the regular season. With seven tumblers within 15 hundredths of a point from the top RQS, the event could belong to anyone. Penn State senior Kate Stopper comes into the championships ranked first in the conference on the floor. Her 9.880 regional qualifying score comes off four floor victories and two second-place showings. After posting a 9.850 at last year's event, Stopper, now the favorite, will need to fend-off a strong field to earn her first conference title. Even though she only has two floor titles on the season, Lindsey Bruck of Michigan enters the event ranked second in the Big Ten, and one of three conference gymnasts with an RQS of 9.875. Teammate Jenny Deiley has earned four floor crowns on the season and is ranked third coming into the championships. Her season high of 9.925 is a team-high this season. Penn State junior, Lisa Clark is the third Big Ten athlete to register a 9.875 RQS. She is tied for the No. 3 ranking with Deiley at the close of the regular season. Clark has posted five floor exercise victories this year and earned a season-high 9.925. Minnesota senior Carolyn Yernberg enters the championships as the fifth ranked conference competitor in the event, but will challenge for the title. She holds the Big Ten's highest floor score of the year at 9.975 and the highest season average at 9.843. Michigan State sophomore Chayla Hill is next on the list with the conference's second highest season average, 9.829. Michigan junior Becca Clauson rounds out the closely packed top seven, with an RQS of 9.865. While currently not in the conference's top 10, Michigan's Elise Ray, the defending champion in the event, should be someone to watch as well.
Uneven Parallel Bars
The uneven bars should provide one of the most exciting competitions of the championships. Elise Ray, the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Captain, is ranked first nationally in the event. The NCAA and Big Ten defending champion on the event, Ray has won the uneven bars title in 12 of her last 13 events, including nine this season. With a Regional Qualifying Score of 9.935, she is the only athlete in the nation to average over a 9.900 on the bars this season. However, she will have competition for the event's title. On her way to the No. 5 ranking in the event nationally, Illinois sophomore Cara Pomeroy has rattled off eight event titles in her 10 competitions this season, finishing second in the other two meets. Like Ray, Pomeroy's top score of the season was a 9.950. Pomeroy's Fighting Illini team is ranked 23rd nationally on the bars. Also in the mix will be Penn State freshman Kristal Uzelac. Currently ranked ninth in the country, Uzelac has won six uneven bars titles this year after finishing second in her first two collegiate events. The Michigan trio of Jenny Deiley, Lauren Mirkovich, and Lindsey Bruck will also score well in the event. The Michigan State team, lead by senior Lauren Simpson and sophomore Kristen Coleman, is ranked 17th in the country on the uneven bars this season.
The top of the Big Ten vault rankings are made up of Maize and Blue. Michigan junior Jenny Deiley is the lone conference competitor ranked in the top-25 off the vault. Having posted a regional qualifying score of 9.900, Deiley has taken home seven vault championships this season and has earned 14 in her career. Her top score of 9.950 is tied with Penn State's Lisa Clark for the Big Ten high-mark of the season. Michigan freshman Katie Lieberman comes into the competition ranked second in the conference. Having finished in the top five in 10 of the team's 11 meets this season, Lieberman has earned a regional qualifying score of 9.865. The third Wolverine at the top of the conference chart is Elise Ray. The senior, has finished in the top three off the vault in her last seven meets. Clark breaks up the Michigan monopoly on top with an RQS of 9.855. Clark enters the championship with six vault victories to her credit this year. Golden Gophers Laura Johnson and Carolyn Yernberg could also show well off the vault.
Three Wolverines currently reside at the top of the Big Ten all-around rankings. Jenny Dieley leads the way with the top regional qualifying score of 39.370; however, both teammates that follow her in the standings hold better season-averages. Deiley has earned three all-around titles this season in addition to her 10 victories on other apparatuses. Sophomore teammate Lindsey Bruck sits right behind Deiley with an RQS of 39.360, but her average on the season is 39.264, nine hundredths of a point better than Deiley's. The third ranked-Wolverine, Elise Ray, also has a 39.264 average on the season. Bruck has taken two all-around championships on the season and has finished in the top-three in all but one meet this year. Ray, the 2004 Big Ten All-Around champ and 2001 NCAA co-champion, has won two AA titles of her own, despite battling injury at the beginning of the season. Minnesota's Laura Johnson and Meredith Hoover have also competed well as all-around performers this year.