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.

Minnesota's Laura Johnson holds the top spot among conference competitors in the vault with a regional qualifying score (RQS) of 9.855, a mark that also puts her at No. 36 in the nation. A four-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Week, Johnson hit a season-high score of 9.900 on the vault twice this year. Johnson finished tied for sixth in the 2005 event, and figures to be a podium contender after a consistent senior season in which she claimed five vault titles.

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.

Uneven Bars
The uneven bar competition promises to be one of the night's most exciting events, featuring some of the nation's top athletes. Michigan's Lauren Mirkovich leads the league, boasting a RQS of 9.835 that ranks eighth in the country. In last year's competition, she matched teammate Elise Ray, the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Captain and then-top-ranked gymnast in the nation, for second place honors. Mirkovich owns six bars titles in 10 meets this season, posting scores of 9.900 or better in six meets. The reigning NCAA South Central Regional bars champion, Mirkovich is also a two-time All-American in the event and the Wolverines' bars specialist.

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. 

Balance Beam
The Michigan Wolverines have used the four inches of the balance beam to the best of their advantage this season. They rank first in the Big Ten and are the only league team to average better than 49.000. The reigning champions return a solid crew to the event this season, including last year's runner-up Lindsey Bruck. With a RQS of 9.875, Bruck commands the Big Ten lead. A three-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Week, Bruck is tied for 11th in the nation on beam and averages a 9.752 on the event. Her season best is a 9.900. But she is not the only Wolverine with hopes of landing the title. She is one of six Wolverines ranking among the league's top 10, including the podium-tested Deiley (No. 3) and Becca Clauson (No. 6).

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.

Floor Exercise
Minnesota's Johnson, who leads the conference on vault, also runs the field in the floor exercise with an RQS of 9.870. The senior, who is ranked 21st nationally, averages a floor routine of 9.820 and has posted a season best of 9.900. Penn State's Aslynn Satterfield leads the way for the Nittany Lions in the event with a RQS of 9.860. Despite ranking second behind Johnson in the league standings, Satterfield edged the leader's season average by 0.002, proving the level of competition this year's event is sure to deliver. Ohio State's Brittany Brown matched Satterfield's RQS for second and averaged a score of 9.845 on the year. Joining Satterfield in the top 10 from Penn State are Lisa Clark and Jennifer Orlando, who both hold regional scores of 9.815, while Liz Grajewski leads Iowa with a 9.815 RQS of her own.

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.

All Around
With the departure of two-time defending all-around champion Elise Ray, the event title will come down to the wire between a field of some of the country's most talented competition. Michigan's all-around duo of Thuener-Rego and Bruck lead the conference in the event, propelling Michigan to the league lead. Thuener-Rego's RQS of is tops in the league, edging Bruck's mark by a mere 0.010. Johnson, who has competed for Minnesota in every all-around this season, is also at the head of the hunt. Her RQS of 39.180 ranks third, and she scored a conference season-high score of 39.475 earlier this year. Deiley, who ranks fourth (39.180) will also give the Wolverines a boost.

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.