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2010-02-18

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Senior Curtis chooses Wolverines and emerges as a leader

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 17, 2010

Senior Sarah Curtis stood up, smiled to the crowd, accepted a bouquet of flowers and hopped onto the awards podium last Saturday. She had completed that routine four consecutive times, beaming with each announcement.

In her final home Big Ten meet for the No. 16 Michigan women’s gymnastics team, Curtis took the all-around crown, placing in the top three spots in three events.

“She puts 100 percent of herself into everything that she does,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said of the senior. “She is a very passionate gymnast. When she walks into the doors of the gym she puts everything into her gymnastics. She also puts all of herself into her academics.”

The Journey to A2

For Sarah Curtis, it was the academics and women’s gymnastics program at the University of Michigan were enough to make her to reject other top-notch schools like Stanford, UNC, Alabama, Arizona and Oregon State – most of which were closer to home – and choose Ann Arbor.

“I chose Michigan for it’s great combination of everything that was important to me,” Curtis said. “I’m huge on academics, and this is obviously one of the most prestigious universities, and there is also a very good gymnastics team. They really had the whole package, unlike every other school that I was looking at.”

The day before former Michigan assistant coach Joanne Bowers came to visit her in Reno, Curtis received a call from her front-runner, Stanford, saying the university had insufficient funds to offer her a scholarship for her freshman year.

When Bowers invited her to visit the University of Michigan that August, Curtis who was interested in Michigan's pharmaceutical program accepted. And Michigan’s calling card for her academically was the pharmaceutical program.

“When Joanne came I wasn’t really thinking about Michigan too much,” Curtis said. “But in light of what Stanford said, I told her, ‘Sure, I’ll take a trip there.’ ”

To make things easier, she took a call from Oregon State — the university she followed growing up — the day before stopping at Michigan. They said that they only had one scholarship left, and that she needed to make a decision soon so the money would not be wasted. Resenting the added pressure, Curtis stepped away from the offer.

Finishing her stretch of East Coast visits, she stepped onto the Michigan campus.

“It was just one of those things where I really could already tell that I fit here in Ann Arbor,” Curtis said. “I felt that I was really here, right where I was supposed to be. It was a hard decision to make, but I finally made the call.”

Life as a Wolverine

After arriving at Michigan for her freshman year, Curtis jumped right into a position in the all-around behind then-junior Nellie Kippley, taking third in her first two meets and surpassing Kippley for second place in her third meet.

But disaster struck as Curtis took a tumble and ruptured her Achilles’ tendon during warm-ups for a home matchup against Denver. The injury required surgery, effectively ending her season and leaving her future as a gymnast in question.

“How do I describe my freshman year? Turmoil,” Curtis said. “Not being able to compete when I could have been a stronger contributor to our team was disappointing, but it kind of let me find my niche on the team.”

The highly touted prospect recovered from an unsuccessful freshman campaign to set her high marks as a second-year gymnast and was named the team’s co-most valuable gymnast. She now carried a new mentality.

“Every time you put on the block ‘M’ leotard, you never take it for granted,” Curtis said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

Curtis was named team captain as a junior, and currently ranks seventh in team history with 23 all-around scores posted over the elite 39.000 mark, even after missing almost an entire year.

“I think Sarah has matured into a real leader of this team,” Plocki said. “She isn’t an extremely vocal person, but she definitely is a lead-by-example type of athlete. She is one of the hardest workers, doesn’t ever complain, she competes like she practices, and she practices like she performs.”

Curtis has gained three U-M Athletic Academic Achievement honors, and has been named twice as an Academic All-Big Ten athlete, and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten first team after her sophomore and junior years.

For a career full of gaudy results, the team element has risen above her own feats: in her tenure Michigan has gone 32-2 in Big Ten performances, the two losses coming during her injury absence in 2007.

“My goals coming here were to do well in school here, enjoy school, and still participate in gymnastics at the same time,” Curtis said.

Just as the team’s motto is "Mission: Possible," with Curtis's successful career, her personal maxim could read, ‘Mission: Accomplished’.