The Michigan Wolverines are seeking their fourth straight title at the 2017 Big Ten Championships, but returning to the top of the podium might not come so easily on Saturday, March 18, in Piscataway, New Jersey. A week ago, ninth-ranked UM split the conference's regular-season crown with No. 13 Nebraska, which will be looking to avenge a runner-up finish at last year's Big Tens and its lone conference loss in 2017.
Hosted at Rutgers Athletic Center, the competition is split into two sessions, determined by the team finishes at last week's Big Five meets. The afternoon session features Minnesota, Michigan State, Maryland, and meet host Rutgers, beginning at noon EDT. The evening session, which starts at 5 PM, includes Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Penn State, and Ohio State.
While the team title will likely come down to a fight between between Michigan and Nebraska, don't count out the rest of the conference to make this an exciting battle. Let's take a look at what it will take for each team to clinch the Big Ten Championship.
MichiganThree-time defending champion Michigan comes into the meet ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten after winning their Big Five meet with a 197.15.
The key for the Wolverines will be to stay loose and remain in their Michigan "bubble." Michigan has a great rotation order, starting on a bye and followed by bars. The Wolverines finish on vault, where they are ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten. Michigan needs to capitalize on its multiple 10.0 start values in the vault lineup. Look for Nicole Artz and Olivia Karas to bounce back with strong all-around performances and help Michigan clinch another Big Ten title.
Watch Karas' 9.975 vault from Michigan's dual with Nebraska:
NebraskaThe Cornhuskers secured their share of the Big Ten regular-season title by also winning their Big Five meet with a 196.65. Nebraska comes into the Big Ten title meet ranked No. 2 in the conference as a team.
For the Cornhuskers to win the Big Ten Championship, getting off to a strong start on beam is key. Nebraska can challenge for the title, but it will need to put some pressure on other teams by replicating its season high on beam of 49.275. The Cornhuskers are led in the event by senior Jennie Laeng, who scored a strong 9.875 at last week's Big Five meet. Another priority for the Cornhuskers will be to finish strong and capitalize on their bar lineup, which leads the Big Ten behind a season-high 49.425.
IowaThe Iowa Hawkeyes, ranked 16th nationally, enter the Big Ten Championships after finishing third overall in regular-season race. Iowa hosted a Big Five meet last week, and the Hawkeyes had one of their best meets of the season with an impressive 196.40.
The key for Iowa is to apply pressure to the top teams while quietly keeping its own pace. Led by Angel Metcalf and Mollie Drenth, the Hawkeyes will be in the mix all the way to the end as they seek their first Big Ten Championship.
Illinois is another team that will look to take advantage of being in the evening session. The Illini posted a strong 196.45 to finish second at their Big Five meet last weekend, just shy of Nebraska. The Fighting Illini will begin the Big Ten Championships with a bye and move on to floor. The Illini finish on the ever-so-important balance beam.
In order for Illinois to stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title, it will need to put up four solid events and receive big performances from Mary Jane Horth and Lizzy Leduc. The Illini are ranked No. 2 on beam in the Big Ten, which will be their final event on Saturday.
Penn StatePenn State was able to take advantage of an open door last weekend at the Big Five and qualify into the evening session of Big Tens. The Nittany Lions will begin the competition and have to finish on a bye.
The key for Penn State's success is to go big and hold nothing back. The Nittany Lions need to take advantage of being in the afternoon session. Although Penn State has had an up-and-down year, it is turning up the heat when it counts. Look for PSU to draw some attention in the evening session. The Nittany Lions are led by junior Briannah Tsang, who is a strong all-arounder, and senior Nicole Medvitz, who has big scoring potential.
Watch Medvitz nail a 9.925 beam routine vs. Illinois:
Ohio StateOhio State was the final team to qualify into the evening session of the Big Ten Championships, finishing third at its Big Five meet with a 195.35. The Buckeyes will have a great competition order on Saturday, beginning the competition on vault.
The key for the Buckeyes will be to start strong on vault and continue their momentum throughout the competition. Vault is Ohio State's best event with a season high of 49.325. Look for Ohio State to be a team that could step in if another conference squad makes mistakes.
Minnesota is looking to rebound after a difficult Big Five meet placed it in the afternoon session for the Big Ten Championships. The Gophers will be out to prove they can still contend for the title in the afternoon session. Minnesota is also looking to post a strong score to move back into the top 36 to make regionals. The Gophers will begin the competition on beam as they look to overcome their struggles from last weekend.
The key for Minnesota will be to put up a big score that everyone will be looking to beat. If the Gophers can put up an impressive score, they can apply the pressure to the teams in the evening session. Look for freshman Paige Williams to be a key gymnast for Minnesota.
Maryland is another team in the afternoon session that is looking to rebound from its Big Five performance. The Terrapins are needing a strong team performance to help secure their bid for regionals. The key for Maryland is to go big and be aggressive. The Terrapins have a lot to give and a lot to lose based on their performance. Maryland has a great starting rotation on vault and will look to take advantage of that preferred rotation order. The Terrapins will need to be at their best and not count any major mistakes to be a contender.
Michigan StateThe Spartans will be in the afternoon session of Big Tens looking to post a strong score to continue their season at regionals. Michigan State is coming off a 194.65 at the Big Five meet. Along with getting off to a hot start on bars, the key for the Spartans will be to stay focused on just their performance and to leave nothing on the floor.
RutgersAs the host of this year's meet, the Scarlet Knights will look to capitalize on their home crowd in search of a season-best performance. Rutgers will begin on floor in the afternoon session. The key for the Scarlet Knights will be to control their energy at home and finish strong on beam.
Michigan Wins Big Five at Iowa
Nebraska Wins Big Five Title at Illinois