Big Ten Coaches addressed the media prior to Saturday's Big Ten Championships
March 20, 2009
Bob Starkell, Illinois
"We are excited as an athletic department to host the Big Ten Championships this year. As a team, we're elated that we get to compete at home. We have the opportunity to show our home crowd what the Big Ten Conference is like. We probably have the most parody of any years this year. I'm going to commend my peers, the other Big Ten coaches, for their quality job. I think the rankings will mean nothing tomorrow, it will be determined by who makes the least amount of mistakes. I've had the opportunity to see just about every Big Ten team compete and I've been impressed with their staffs, their athletes and how they carry themselves. I expect no other thing than this being a phenomenal championship tomorrow.
"My team is a pretty well balanced group. I'm going to look forward to my seniors, there's four of them, with the top one being Marijka Botterman. I think she's had the best year so far for our upperclassman. So hopefully she'll be able to lead the way. Other than that we've got a mixture of talented athletes. Each one has had the opportunity to compete in the all-around most of the time. I think we are in a unique situation where we can pretty much put up any line-up we want and not have to worry about injuries being involved. I'm excited to have the rest of the group here. Hopefully tomorrow's event will be just as exciting as I think it will be."
Larissa Libby, Iowa
"Iowa would like to take the opportunity to thank the Big Ten, Illinois and Bob (Starkell) and all of his staff for what I'm sure will be an amazing event. We've had the pleasure of being here this year already. We always go back and forth with Illinois and it's always a great place to compete. We are probably the direct opposite of Bob's team, with five season-ending injuries and absolutely no depth on any event. Pretty much we are shaking the dice and hoping as we go. We've had a real young team appearing in our line-ups this year, but they've done a fantastic job.
"This probably been my most rewarding year as a coach, having the opportunity to coach these young women and watching them post a never-give-up attitude. I'm excited to be a part of the Big Ten and have the opportunity to compete for the title. It's really going to come down to, as Bob said, everybody's got to go to beam right? It's going to come to that team that goes 24-for-24. We have not been that lucky team this year that has gone 24-for-24 and we look forward to trying to get that at the Big Ten Championships.
"We have had some great performances from Jenifer Simbhudas, who is our top performer this year, but also from our youngsters, Jessa Hansen, who is a freshman, and our sophomore Houry Gebeshian. Houry has really stepped up her leadership role and we'll be relying on those kids tomorrow night. We are here to have a great time and enjoy the championships that will be going live on the Big Ten Network for the first time. We are really excited about that opportunity and what it will show to the rest of the country."
Bev Plocki, Michigan
"I'm also happy to be here and want to thank the University of Illinois and the Big Ten Network for being here and taking on the challenge of this event live. It's going to be extremely interesting and hopefully we will start a trend across the country that gymnastics doesn't always have to be tape delayed. We are thrilled to be here and the arena looks fantastic. Our kids are excited to come in here and compete.
"This season for us has been an interesting one in that we have no freshmen. We graduated four pretty talented athletes last season and, for a variety of reasons, we ended up not having any freshmen. Our depth is limited as we are a small team. But, we have fought and this is one of the closest teams that we've had for a number of years. They have kind of taken that saying "whatever doesn't kills us makes us stronger" approach to things. People have stepped up, people have improved difficulty in events and consistency and developed confidence. I think this team really believes in each other.
"We had a plan from the very beginning of the season. We knew this was going to be one that was going to be a season of management in order to get everyone to the end of the season and able to be out on the floor competing. We started out with some watered-down skills and routines, and our goals have been to keep getting better. The ultimate goal was going to be having the right team on the floor at the end of the season. Now for Big Tens, regionals and, God-willing, nationals, the plan so far has seemed to work well and we hope to have everyone on the floor tomorrow night and be able to be at our best.
"But this is by far the best year for the Big Ten conference. We have seen a number of the teams as well and the strength of the teams is incredible. I think five in the top 18 teams in the country is probably the highest that we've ever had that accomplished by the entire conference. Everybody pretty much right in a row. It is going to be a great championship. Any team could walk away with that championship tomorrow night, which is what I think makes the whole thing that much more exciting. So we are looking forward to it."
Kathlie Klages, Michigan State
"Michigan State would like to thank Illinois, Bob (Starkell) and all of his staff, the Big Ten Network for being here and the Big Ten conference for having us. It's always an exciting event no matter whether it's televised live or tape delayed or whatever; it's always a very exciting event. I think that this year the parody is what's making it even more exciting. So we sit here as coaches and it's not they'll probably be first and they'll probably be second. We don't have that feeling this year, which is really an exciting one.
"My team has struggled a bit this year in terms of their consistency. Rochelle Robinson has not been able to compete in the all-around for us this year and that has hurt us a little bit. We've had two season-ending injuries out of our athletes this year. We've had one freshman compete for us and that's basically it. And she didn't really come on until really late in the season. We've had to rely a lot on the experience of our seniors and our juniors and for some reason or another they have not been able to be as consistent as we would have hoped. We only had one meet this season where we didn't count a fall.
"We are looking for that 24-for-24 along with Iowa so that we can prove to the Big Ten and the United States what this team is truly about. I believe that Nicole Curler has had a rough season, but she's really now putting it together the last couple of meets. Kelsey Morley is a young lady who does phenomenal balance beam work, so we are really excited about her and what she might be able to do tomorrow. Emily Lopatofsky is a junior who is doing some floor work, she's our first double layout in competitions and we are excited about what she can do. Senior Katlyn Roggensack is a kid who continues to get better and better. She is vaulting really well for us and she's upgraded her floor routine so she's competing harder skills that she's ever competed in her career.
"So we are really excited about what our team has done. We have had moments of brilliance at every meet. It just hasn't all gone together in the same meet, so that's what we are looking for this weekend and hopefully at the regional championships."
Meg Stephenson, Minnesota
"We are also really excited to be here and say thanks to Illinois, it's a lot of hard work to put on this championship. So far it seems like it's going very smoothly and we appreciate that. And the Big Ten Network we are very excited about trying out the live TV and seeing how it goes. I think it will be a good experience for women's gymnastics across the country to see the live TV format in the collegiate format and see how that works.
"We are having a really fun year with this team. They are really on the same page. They love doing gymnastics, they have wonderful team chemistry and we have really enjoyed working with them and watching them compete all year. We have a pretty well-rounded team; one senior is competing and one freshman is competing and then we have everybody else in between. We've got some future ahead of us and we are really excited about what they've been able to do and they have been really fun for us to work with."
Jim Stephenson, Minnesota
"This morning we had the opportunity to speak on behalf of people we have nominated for gymnasts and freshman of the year. It was a very inspiring moment to listen to the coaches speak about their athletes. I became very aware that the young women that we work with are more than just wonderful performers in the greatest expression of athletic ability and artistic performance. They are full-rounded people that are doing great in the classroom and look to the future. It reminded me too that the Big Ten Conference, as strong as it is with big institutions and big buildings and things, what it really is, is the people that participate at those universities. I can say with great confidence that the emissaries that we send forth from our programs will do great honor to the Big Ten."
Carey Fagan, Ohio State
"Ohio State wants to thank Illinois for hosting the Big Ten Championships. Kathy Hug has put a lot of work into it along with Bob (Starkell) and his staff. My team's not here yet, they're finishing up their final exams so it's just me. I'm going to enjoy practice today watching the other teams. It's an interesting dynamic when the kids have finals week because practice is voluntary. Although everyone made it to the gym this week, the emotions tend to run high with final exams. Gymnasts tend to be perfectionists, if it's not an A then it's somewhat disappointing, so we've been battling through that this week. We decided to give the kids the day off to kind of regroup. They're on their way to the championships now and we are looking forward to them getting here.
"The season for us has been much improved from last year. We have a core of three all-arounders - Hillary Dow, Taylor Jones and Rebecca Best. Typically when they have a good day the team has a good day and we fill in the other spots as we can with seniors, sophomores and juniors. We are excited coming off three strong meets in a row and we are looking to continue that tomorrow."
Steve Shephard, Penn State
"Penn State would also like to thank Illinois, their staff, Bob (Starkell) and his staff. A lot of work went into this championship and we appreciate the effort and work that went into it to provide our student-athletes with a quality championship experience, which I know it will be. My team is very much looking forward to the championship. I would also like to thank the Big Ten Network for being here and putting the championship on live TV; that's going to be a new experience for all of us.
"My team has really come into its own the last few meets. We hit 24-for-24 in the last three meets and I feel like we are really kind of peaking right now. We've had tremendous leadership from our junior class; we don't really have any seniors. My team captains are Rosie Smith and Allie Southard who have done a tremendous job. Also Brandi Personett and Alex Brockway being leaders and really propelling and moving this team forward in the right direction. We really had a great year as far as, we had an alumni event and we had over 70 alumni come back and visit Penn State for our meet when Ohio State was there. Carey was one of our esteemed alumni there who, even though she was coaching Ohio State, still has a little Penn State left in her.
"But anyway it's just been a real fun year and I'd like to echo the sentiments that Jim expressed in terms of the quality of people that are coming out of our programs. I think that we all can be very proud of the student-athletes that graduate from our respective institutions and the future that they have is very bright. We are just hoping to have a great meet tomorrow. I wish every team the best of luck and we want to have a quality experience for our student-athletes. I hope everyone has a great time."
Question for Bob Starkell about added pressure on Illinois being host school
"I think most of the questions I received this week were about tomorrow whether I felt I was going to have an advantage or one up on everybody because it's our facility. I do think it adds more pressure and for us I think we add it on ourselves. Two years ago we were third and last year we were second, so now that we have the meet at home, if I do my math right, I guess some are expecting us to finish in first. Again, it's what you make of it. We have the opportunity to win because we have a fairly talented group. But that's why we have the meet, we have the opportunity to compete against the best and whoever can make the fewest amount of mistakes will take home the trophy."
Question: Is the competition truly wide open?
Bob Starkell, Illinois
"Even from the head referee, she's worried about it being so close that they're looking for mistakes for point .025. I think even looking at rankings it's so hard to determine what the capability of each team is. It could come down to a difference of less than a toe point."
Larissa Libby, Iowa
"I hope that's what it comes down to. I think that would be the greatest thing for the conference as a whole and the championship if everybody hits on the same night and then your winner is determined from that. That's the kind of thing that you hope for, because you never want to win because somebody fell; you want to win because you were the best on that night."
Bev Plocki, Michigan
"And you want to be against the best competition because I think all of us are going to be going then and competing in a regional championship. We want to have the best competition now to prepare our teams to continue to go on. I think the goal would be to advance several of our Big Ten teams all the way on to the national championships and that's what's going to be the best thing for the Big Ten Conference. We need to let people know that we're a quality conference from the top to the bottom."