- McKenzie Berezin/Daily
By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 31, 2013
Michigan has a top-ranked team competing at the Crisler Center led by a sophomore having a standout season — and it’s not the men’s basketball team.
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The No. 3 women’s gymnastic team and sophomore Sachi Sugiyama are quietly gaining a reputation as an elite team in the NCAA.
The Wolverines (2-1 Big Ten, 6-1 overall) are off to a stellar start, featuring tremendous depth overall and a group of athletes that seems to enjoy nothing more than the thrill of competition.
Among them is Sugiyama, who is having a sophomore year that might be bigger than her home state. The native of Keller, Texas turned heads last year when she captured the Big Ten title on the vault, second place on the uneven bars and was named to the All-Big Ten Championship Team.
She’s on pace to do it again this year.
“I haven’t changed anything specifically,” Sugiyama said. “The routines have stayed the same from last year, but (I’ve) definitely just (been) working on the details.”
And the details have been paying off, particularly on the floor exercise, where Sugiyama is tied for 13th in the nation, averaging a 9.888 mark.
She has placed in the top four in 11 of 12 routines on vault, uneven bars and the floor exercise this year. She already captured the uneven bars title twice this month, at the Cancun Classic and against Nebraska, posting scores of 9.850 and 9.900, respectively. She also found herself atop the podium for her floor exercise at the Cancun Classic (9.900) and for her performance on the vault versus Minnesota (9.950).
“She’s much more of a veteran performer now,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “She knows how to handle pressure-filled situations better than she did last year, and she’s doing a very good job for us. … We’re very happy with what she’s been doing.”
The sophomore credits her success to a combination of new confidence, as well as the support she receives from her teammates.
“My confidence has improved and my level of endurance (has improved),” Sugiyama said. “I’ve gotten more clean in my gymnastics and definitely better techniques have been progressing (that I’ve been) working on since freshman year, and it’s definitely been paying off.”
What will be most important, though, is Sugiyama’s ability to handle the pressure come time for the NCAA Tournament. She’s done a good job dealing with the personal pressure and the pressure that comes with being on a top-ranked team so far this season, and will hope to continue to do so when Michigan hosts Iowa on Saturday.
“We’re definitely excited about (the ranking),” Sugiyama said. “We’ve been taking it more as motivation because we definitely want to stay up there, and I don’t think were taking it as negative pressure. It’s definitely like a good pressure. We’re really enjoying it … and it’s a really good feeling.”