Pride, Tradition, and the Letter M
Feb. 12, 2007
Success is truly earned and never given.
Just ask Beverly Plocki, head women's gymnastics coach at the University of Michigan, who is now in her 18th season at the helm in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are just one of just four programs in the country to advance to the last 15 NCAA Championships, while dominating the Big Ten with 13 conference titles over the last 15 seasons. The eight-time Big Ten Coach of the Year, four-time NCAA Regional Coach of the Year and 1994 NCAA National Coach of the Year has led Michigan to seven NCAA regional titles, two NCAA Championship runner-up finishes and 14 top-10 showings in 17 years as head coach. Plocki's Wolverines have captured a Big Ten record seven straight conference titles, won six of the last eight NCAA regional crowns, secured 122 NCAA All-America honors and six NCAA individual national titles.
And all that for just one letter. A block M.
"I don't believe there is any one formula of success," Plocki said. "The foundation of what I have tried to do here at Michigan was to instill a sense of pride in wearing the block M, a sense of tradition for all of the athletes that have came through the program, and a commitment of continuing a tradition of success."
Like any great program, Plocki had to weather the storm before the sun began to shine on her Wolverines. She inherited a program that in seven consecutive seasons finished no better than fifth at the Big Ten Championships, while qualifying for the NCAA Championships just once in eight years.
"The most challenging thing for me upon arriving in Ann Arbor was getting the administration to buy into the vision of our program," she said. "During this particular time, women's gymnastics was on the verge of being dropped as a sport. Poor facilities and creating a winning culture were among the other obstacles that we had to overcome."
Winning did not take long do as the Wolverines won Plocki her first Big Ten title in just her third season and rallied off five more conference crowns for a then-Big Ten record six straight. It took Michigan only three seasons to become a perennial contender for the NCAA Championship, securing 15 consecutive top-10 national finishes.
Beth Wymer and Elise Ray are perhaps the most decorated gymnasts that have not only impacted the Michigan gymnastics program, but have also left their mark in Big Ten history.
Wymer became Michigan's most celebrated gymnast in the mid-1990s by earning three individual NCAA titles in the uneven bars, 13 All-America honors, 14 Big Ten Championships, three Big Ten Gymnasts of the Year awards, three Academic All-Big Ten honors and the conference's 1995 Medal of Honor. During Wymer's four-year tenure, Michigan tallied a 116-9 record, posting a 45-1 conference record. In each of her four years, the Wolverines won the Big Ten Championship, advanced to NCAA regional competition, and finished among the top 10 in the nation four times, including a program-best runner-up finish in 1995.
"Beth Wymer put Michigan gymnastics on the map, period," said Plocki. "She was a great kid with a tremendous amount of ability, but was very challenging in a lot of ways. I spent a great deal of my time trying to convince Beth she was as good as she was. She always expected greatness and it was hard for her to feel good about something that she expected to happen every time out. It was not acceptable for her not to be perfect."
At the turn of the century, Plocki found immediate success with a talented young freshman in Ray.
Ray became the program's first national champion in the all-around during her freshman campaign in 2001, helping her squad take third at the NCAA Championships. And with national titles on the balance beam in 2002 and uneven bars in 2004, she joined Wymer as the only three-time national champions in school history. The Wolverines won 93 meets with Ray on the roster, winning five Big Ten titles, capturing three regional crowns and posting three top- five finishes at NCAAs.
"Elise Ray was a perfectionist," said Plocki. "Her time at Michigan was one of the most rewarding times for me working with an athlete of that caliber. It was awesome seeing all the contributions she made to our program."
And as much as can be said about the success in the gym, perhaps the all-around performance in the classroom is what has earned the team its highest marks.
Plocki's perfectionists have excelled in the classroom with 50 gymnasts earning 105 Academic All-Big Ten honors and 65 student-athletes earning National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches (NACGC) Scholastic All-America accolades. In addition, the team earned Michigan's inaugural Community Service Award in 2001, repeating in 2002, while earning the Leaders and Best Award in 2000 and 2001, given to the University of Michigan team with the highest GPA.
"Recruiting is never easy although our success and tradition gives us a shot to bring in great student-athletes. I think young ladies choose the University of Michigan because of the academic reputation that Michigan enjoys," Plocki said. "The majority of the gymnasts we recruit are also high-achieving students scholastically. We also enjoy a family-type atmosphere that we try to promote. The tradition, friendships, and the commitment that they make to each other are life long."
Looking back on all the accolades and honors the Michigan gymnastics program have been fortunate enough to receive, Plocki's most memorable moment was its first Big Ten Championship.
"That was such a milestone. It finally felt that we had arrived after working so hard in the first few years," she said. "Our team cohesiveness, desire, and the will to win was something that was very special. We just down right wanted it more. It was an incredible experience."
However the most incredible experience has been the Wolverines' long-term success. Thirteen Big Ten titles in 15 years says it all. It is truly one of the most impressive vaults to success of any conference program in any sport over the last 25 years.
And it is clear what has kept the Wolverines on top for so long.
Pride, tradition, and the letter M.