2006 Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships Preview
March 24, 2006
The 2006 Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships features seven Big Ten teams, including three of which are ranked in the top 20 nationally this season. Seventh-ranked Michigan leads the league into the conference championships in search of its eighth straight Big Ten title. The defending champion Wolverines earned the program's 13th crown in 14 years, edging Penn State by 0.125 - the smallest margin of victory in the championships' history.
This year's competition looks to be equally dramatic when the 16th-ranked Nittany Lions enter with a team score average that is less than a point shy of Michigan's. The Nittany Lions are followed by the 21st-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers, the last team other than Michigan to claim a championship crown with a win in 1998. The 2006 Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships will be hosted by the Michigan State University. Team and all-around competition gets underway Saturday, March 25 at 6 p.m. at Jension Fieldhouse.
Johnson will face tough competition in defending champion Katie Lieberman and her Michigan teammates who lead the conference as a team in vault, averaging 48.905 in the event. The Wolverine sophomore enters the event with a RQS of 9.850. Last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Lieberman has posted a high mark of 9.925 this season. She will be pushed by teammate and co-defending champion Jenny Deiley. The eight-time All-American senior Deiley ranks fifth in the conference with a RQS of 9.815. Her best mark of the year is tied for conference-best 9.950 with Penn State's Jennifer Orlando. The Nittany Lions feature three vaulters who rank among the league's top 10, including Orlando, Lisa Clark and Michelle Ilg. Clark, who finished the event in a four-way tie for eighth in 2005, currently ranks third in the Big Ten with a RQS of 9.840.
Iowa's Kortny Williamson and Minnesota's Carmelina Carabajal, ranked fourth and fifth in the conference respectively, should make a push for the title as well. Williamson has qualified for the event as an individual competitor North Central Regional competition. Carabajal shares the Gophers' top score on the season with Johnson on another 9.900 mark.
With Mirkovich guiding the way, the Wolverines also have a firm grip on the team lead in the event. Wolverine Lindsey Bruck ranks third with a score of 9.850, while newcomer Tatjana Thuener-Rego holds the fifth-best RQS of 9.835. Minnesota's Johnson will also be in the mix for title honors. She posted a conference-best average of 9.827 in the event this season and ranks second in the league. Johnson finished in a five-way tie for fourth in the 2005 competition, and will face some familiar competition in Illinois' Cara Pomeroy and Penn State's Michelle Ilg, both of whom finished among that group of fourth-place finishers and currently rank among the league's top 10.
Illinois' Julie Crall climbed to second in the league with a RQS of 9.830. Her teammate Pomeroy joins her among the top five in the league with a RQS of 9.805. Ohio State's Maalika Moore-Thomas, whose 9.790 ranks sixth in the league, also looks to challenge for top honors.
The Wolverines again show off their depth in the floor exercise, boasting five competitors among the top 10. Thuener-Rego leads the way for the Maize and Blue, also owning a 9.860 RQS. The rookie scored a league-high 9.925 in the event this year. Her teammate Deiley matched that high scoring mark and ranks fifth in the Big Ten with a RQS of 9.845. Clauson, whose RQS of 9.820 pits her in eighth among the conference leaders, looks to defend her title in the event.
The hosting Michigan State Spartans feature two of the league's best all-around competitors in Kristen Coleman (No. 5) and Victoria Iakounina (No. 10). Iowa's Grajewski has already qualified for the North Central Regional competition in the all-around, and hopes to be a podium presence for the Hawkeyes in the league championships. Penn State's Orlando and Meredith Hoover and Ohio State's Maalika Moore-Thomas round out the top gymnasts in this year's all-around.