Only four schools have ever won an NCAA Division I women's gymnastics team title but Katie Lieberman and her University of Michigan teammates are striving to add a fifth to that list.
And if the No. 4-ranked Wolverines break into that elite company at the NCAA Women's Gymnastics Championships late next month, Lieberman, a three-time senior All-American from Lake Forest High School, will be front and center.
"If we're not in that group, I think we're definitely creeping up toward it," said Lieberman of the quartet of Georgia, UCLA, Utah and Alabama. "A lot of people are doubting us but we've got a lot of confidence."
A big reason for that confidence stems from the Wolverines' win over top-ranked and three-time defending national champion Georgia March 7. The win marked the second time Michigan has beaten the Gym Dogs; Michigan is one of only seven programs to hand Georgia a regular season defeat in the last 19 years.
Lieberman's contribution to the win was tying for first in the floor exercise with a score of 9.9.
"We put it all together in that meet; that was an awesome boost," said Lieberman, who also competes in the vault. "It showed everyone that we could be right up there with the top programs."
The Wolverines continued their warmup for the postseason over the weekend in Ann Arbor by easily defending their Big Ten crown, outdistancing runner-up Illinois and third-place finisher Penn State. It was Michigan's 15th conference championship in the last 17 years.
Lieberman came up short in her quest to win an individual Big Ten title for the fourth straight year, as she tied for second in the vault with a score of 9.9. She had won the conference vault championship in her freshman and sophomore seasons and was the floor exercise winner last year.
"I would have loved to have come out with another individual title but the girl who won (Penn State's Brandi Personett) had an amazing vault; she deserved to win," said Lieberman. "As a team, we started out on the beam and got a lot of the nerves out. That created some momentum and we ended on the bars, which is probably our strongest event."
Lieberman added to her three individual conference titles by earning All-America recognition three times. She was a first and second-team choice, respectively, on the vault her first two years and earned first-team honors on the floor in 2007.
"It would be great to make an event final this year, too," she said. "If we do well as a team, it will probably also work out individually."
This is the deepest squad Michigan has fielded in Lieberman's four years in Ann Arbor, leading to the expectation of bettering the 11th-place finishes of the last two years. Next on the schedule are regionals April 12 before nationals two weeks later in Athens, Ga. Michigan has advanced to the finals 15 years in a row, earning seven regional titles.
At this point of the season, Lieberman is worn down enough physically that the little things make all the difference.
"It's such a long season but you just try to overlook being sore and tired," said Lieberman, who plans to work as a research assistant at the University of Michigan Hospital next year while applying for medical school. "Sometimes pointing your toes or bending your legs a little differently can be a real difference."
Despite the individual success Lieberman has enjoyed, all the focus at this time of year revolves around the team. That group focus is in stark contrast to the individual-oriented culture Lieberman experienced while a member of the Illinois Gymnastics Institute club team before attending Michigan.
"I love that it's all about team in college and it's so different than in club," said Lieberman. "We're all pulling for one another and hanging on every routine."
Several other local products also stood out at the 2008 Big Ten women's gymnastics meet.
One was Lieberman teammate Kylee Botterman (Lincoln-Way Central), a freshman who tied for the floor exercise title (9.9) and tied for second with Lieberman in vaulting (9.9). She became the first Michigan freshman to win floor exercise since 1998.
"It was a lot of fun," said Botterman after the meet. "My family was here to support both me and my sister (Illinois junior Marijka Botterman) and it was awesome. This whole week was about team. I just went out and had fun. I was looking forward to bars all night and I had an unreal time. Starting on beam didn't affect us that much. It was nice to get it out of the way and go strong from there not having to worry about anything. I am looking very forward to a week off. I think everyone needs a little break to let our bodies heal up a little bit."
Botterman, who was named first-team all-Big Ten Friday, won five vault titles during the year and earned the team's only judges' 10.0 score in 2008. She also has the best regional qualifying score in the conference on vault and the eighth-best in the nation. She also earned two floor titles to give her the most individual titles among all Michigan freshmen at seven.
Also performing well was Illinois freshman Allison Buckley (Conant). She, too, was a first-team all-Big Ten pick, becoming only the sixth gymnast in program history to earn that distinction. Her best finish at the conference meet was a tie for second on the balance beam (9.875) and she also tied for fourth in the vault (9.85) and all-around (39.2).
Buckley, who also captured conference Freshman of the Year honors, has claimed 19 individual titles this season, the third-highest total in school history, and ranks in the national top-50 on four events (floor-18th, AA-24th, vault-37th, beams-47th).
The only other Chicagoan with a top-five finish Saturday in Ann Arbor was Iowa senior Katie Burke (Fremd), who tied for fifth on the balance beam (9.85).
The Mid-American Conference also held its Women's Gymnastics Championships Saturday, with Northern Illinois teammates Holly Reichard (Fremd) and Natalie Blum (Lockport) and Kent State senior Jill Kowalski (Glenbard North) among the meet's top performers.
Reichard, a freshman, was named first-team all-MAC after finishing third in the all-around with a score of 38.975. She also tie for first on the uneven parallel bars (9.75) and a tie for fourth on the balance beam (9.8).
Blum, a sophomore, tied for fourth on the vault (9.8) and uneven parallel bars (9.725), and Kowalski tied for fourth on the bars and tied for sixth on the floor exercise (9.75).
Kent State won the team title, easily beating runner-up Eastern Michigan and third-place Central Michigan.
During the week for which he was honored, Moore's hit .667 (10 of 15) with a slugging percentage of .867 in a four-game sweep of Western Illinois. He had more than one hit in each contest and scored at least one run in every game. In Purdue's double-header sweep March 23, Moore, who played one year at Oakton Community College before transferring to Purdue last year, had six hits and scored five runs in eight official at-bats.
Purdue (10-12, 3-1 conference) opened Big Ten play this weekend by taking three of four from Northwestern. Moore was hitless in the first three games of the series but busted out for three hits and three RBIs in as many at-bats in Sunday's 8-6 win. Also last week, Moore had a four-hit game in six at-bats in a 15-0 rout over Valparaiso.
Heading into this week, Moore ranks second on the team with a .324 average.
In his first year in West Lafayette, Moore started 52 of 53 games in center field, batting .275 with 25 runs scored and 24 RBI. He also committed only two errors.
During the week ending March 23, Schaefer hit .450 (9 for 20) with a double and home run apiece, in addition to scoring eight runs and driving in four, as the Flames (14-8, 5-1 in conference) won all five games. His batting average during the span rose 82 points; his average is .338 (third on the team) after Illinois-Chicago took two of three on the road over the weekend against Wright State. Schaefer's three home runs also tie him for the team lead.
Schaefer began last week by going a combined 6 for 10 in wins over St. Francis and IIT, including his third home run of the year. He was 3 of 11 against Wright State and had his 10-game hitting streak snapped Sunday.
Schaefer entered Illinois-Chicago's starting lineup as a redshirt sophomore last year but much of his season was wiped out due to a fractured right wrist. In 21 total games in 2007 (18 starts), he batted .266 with one homer and four runs-batted-in. He was a reserve in 2006 after sitting out the entire '05 campaign with a fractured elbow.
In softball, Butler junior first baseman Amy Hyerczyk (Stagg) has been hard on opposing pitchers thus far in 2008. She heads into this week batting a robust .408. She hasn't hit for much power, as 25 of her 29 hits have been singles, but her on-base percentage is an impressive .517 with a team-high 13 walks.
Hyerczyk was named Horizon League Player of the Week March 4 for her effort in the Bulldogs' five games the previous week. During that span, she batted .462 at the Georgia Softball Classic, including her lone home run of the year, a three-run shot in a win over Longwood. She also had three of Butler's eight hits in two games against then-No. 17 Georgia.
Butler (11-13, 2-3 in conference) dropped two of three at home to Illinois-Chicago over the weekend and Hyerczak was 3 of 9 over that span, including a two-hit effort in the Bulldogs' 7-4 win Saturday in the second game of a double-header.
Counting the team's 24 games this year, Hyerczyk has started all 126 contests Butler has played since she arrived in Indianapolis. She started 52 games as a Butler freshman in 2005, hitting .280 for the year, and increased that mark to a team-high .375 as a sophomore last spring.
He was a member of the Wolverines' 200-yard freestyle relay Thursday, which earned eight points and honorable mention All-America honors by finishing 13th with a time of 1:19.35. Dauw added five more points Saturday with a 12th-place individual finish in the 200 butterfly (1:44.61).
Dauw failed to qualify for the finals in the 100 butterfly, an event he finished seventh in last yeart. In Friday's prelims, his time of 47.29 was good for 22nd, six spots away from a berth in the finals.
His finish in the relay and the 200 butterfly makes Dauw a five-time honorable mention All-American. He also achieved that status last season on three relays -- the 200 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 400 medley.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun