The Wolverine

February 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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FEBRUARY 2022 THE WOLVERINE 61 BY ANTHONY BROOME O livia Karas left the University of Michigan as one of the most deco- rated gymnasts in program history. The class of 2019 graduate was a six-time All-American, a five-time regular- season All-American and a winner of four team Big Ten championships, along with a laundry list of other accolades from her college career. Her two and a half years out of the program have given her perspective on her journey in ways she never thought imaginable. The Chicago native says the connection to her alma mater goes back long before her time in Ann Arbor. "Whenever I would turn the Big Ten Network on, there was [head coach Bev Plocki] and her Michigan Wolverines, and so I was very well versed in Michigan being a gymnastic school," Karas said. "My un- cle also went to Michigan and he was in the architecture school. A bunch of my cous- ins and second cousins went to Michigan; they all live in the Michigan area." The recruiting process was not as ex- tensive for Karas as it is for many other prospective student-athletes. The morning after arriving in Ann Arbor on a late-night post-practice drive, she knew where she wanted to be. She equated the banners in Crisler Center and atmo- sphere she walked into on equal footing with a choir of angels signing. Karas was sold. And whether or not her mom wanted to admit it, she was sold too. "It was so beautiful," she recalled. "And I remember I had turned to my mom and said, 'I'm going to Michigan.' She said, 'Honey, this is your first visit.' Now, she tells me that in the back of her head she was thinking, 'I've wanted you to come here since you were a little kid.' But I looked at her and said I'm going to Michigan. "I went on one other recruiting visit. Ultimately, my dream kind of came true. I ended up getting the call and accepting a scholarship to go to Michigan." While the connection with the school was instant, the relationship with the coach developed over time. Plocki, who wrapped up her 32nd season at the helm of the gymnastics program with Michigan's first national championship in 2021, is known as a tough but loving and supportive leader to her team. Karas admitted she did not understand her coach's style at first, but that it eventually clicked. "I was always the type of athlete who needed a little more love and hand-hold- ing," she admitted. "She didn't give me that and I was a little confused. I didn't get it. I had a shift in understanding her as a coach when I got hurt my junior year. "I got to kind of take on a little bit of a coach and manager role because I couldn't compete. And I started to listen more actually to what she was saying to each of my teammates and going, 'Well, that makes total sense.' Or listening to how they would strategize lineups. "My senior year, she and I meshed beautifully in our understanding of each other, my understanding of her coaching method and her trust in me as an athlete knowing that I would get my job done." With the gymnastics program getting the monkey off its back with a national title in 2021, Karas was awestruck at how Plocki used it as a platform to in- clude those who came before. It ham- mered home why both Michigan and Plocki are home to Karas. "That right there tells you exactly what she is like. She exudes Michigan," she said. "When I think of Michigan, I think Bev Plocki." Karas graduated in 2019 with a de- gree in communications and a minor in writing. Once out of college athlet- ics, with no more early morning lifts or adhering to someone else's schedule, her time opened up. She had always had the writing bug, but finally had the op- portunity to parlay it into a new project. Karas and her father, Jim, put together a book titled Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete, released in 2021. The genesis of the project came from sitting down and sharing stories with her family. They figured it would be a fun idea to put them down in print. "I started writing some of the stories down and sharing them with my mom, my grandma or my aunt," she said. "And we were all just having such a great time seeing it on paper and remembering it. And it kind of just took off from there. "I've always wanted to write a book — it's been something on my bucket list and a goal of mine. It became the right place at the right time and fell into our laps without us even sitting down and strategizing. We just honestly started writing the stories." Part of the exercise helped strengthen an already tight bond between father and daughter. Karas, a 2019 graduate, had 40 event and all-around titles in her career, including 13 on vault, six on bars, two on beam, 11 on floor and eight in the all-around. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY   WHERE ARE THEY NOW? Olivia Karas Flexes Degree With Book, Broadcasting

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