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Captains split event titles at Pink Meet

Natasha Janardan/Daily
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By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 24, 2013

Michigan athletic teams hold the expectation that their captains embody the leaders and the best.

The captains of the No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team, senior Katie Zurales and junior Joanna Sampson, met that expectation by sweeping the individual event titles at the Wendy M. Roach Invitational Pink Meet, a competition honoring the mother of former West Virginia gymnast Nicole Roach.

Zurales won the vault and beam titles with identical scores of 9.925 on each event. She stuck her Yurchenko full to set a career best on vault and performed a wobble-free, near-flawless routine to match her career high on beam. Sampson proved victorious on bars and floor with scores of 9.875 and 9.950, respectively. Her performances were highlighted by difficult skills: a full-twisting, double-layout dismount off bars and a double layout on floor.

Led by Zurales and Sampson, the Wolverines (5-1 Big Ten, 12-1 overall) posted a 196.925 to match its highest away-meet score and defeat No. 25 West Virginia (196.550), New Hampshire (194.875) and Towson (194.875) on Sunday at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W. Va. The quad meet marked the homecoming for Michigan coach Bev Plocki, who earned both her bachelor and masters degrees at West Virginia.

“We have a much smaller contingent ... that follows us around, but I think my team has done an excellent job overall of competing on the road,” Plocki said. “Our scores have been incredibly consistent across the board without a lot of deviation this year, whether we compete at home or away.”

Michigan recorded a 48.825 after its first rotation, its first sub-49.000 event total since the Cancun Classic on Jan. 4 and trailed the Mountaineers by 0.425. The Wolverines counted their lowest score so far of the season — a 9.475. Junior Shelby Gies and senior Brittnee Martinez, usually very consistent gymnasts, faltered by going over on their handstands on high bar, thus forcing themselves to take extra swings. Sampson anchored the event and was able to perform well under pressure and make up for their struggles with a winning routine. Zurales and sophomore Sachi Sugiyama (who tied West Virginia’s Hope Sloanhoeffer) placed second and third, respectively.

Competing in Olympic order — vault-bars-beam-floor — the Wolverines regained momentum on the balance beam. Gies and Martinez showed they were unfazed from their bar routines and rebounded with scores of 9.850 and 9.825, respectively, for their solid beam routines.

“We practice and talk a lot about staying in the moment, in the present and not letting what happened in the past effect what you do in the future,” Plocki said. “As soon as they (Gies and Martinez) were done with bars, I just said, ‘It’s over. Let it go. You need to start thinking about beam.’ They’re veteran enough to know that they can’t carry that over because their scores are already recorded.

“Shelby gave us a great lead-off beam routine, and Brittnee followed up with a really strong routine as well, so it just shows the kind of veteran performers they are and their ability to be able to do what we preach every day and let the past be the past, regroup and get ready for what you have to do now.”

The rest of the lineup showed consistency with performances scoring 9.825 and above. Michigan scored a 49.250, its second-highest beam score of the season, to close in on West Virginia’s 98.150-98.075 lead.

The Wolverines dominated on the floor exercise, proving their No. 1 national ranking (49.346 average) on the event was not overrated. Senior All-American Natalie Beilstein opened with a 9.900 to place third on the event behind Sampson and West Virginia’s Kaylyn Millick. The rest of the lineup recorded 9.825 or higher, bringing the event total to a monstrous 49.450 to switch up the rankings. Heading into the final rotation, the Wolverines took over West Virginia’s lead, 147.525-147.225.

On vault, Michigan performed its best rotation of the season, totaling a 49.400 to mark its new season best on the event. Highlighted by stick after stick, the Wolverines swept the podium on the exercise. Zurales took first, followed by freshman Austin Sheppard who tied for second with West Virginia’s Jaida Lawrence and Beilstein and Sugiyama in a tie for fourth. Sheppard recorded her season high on the event, and Colbert and Zakharia each scored a 9.825.

“We started out a little shaky on uneven bars, but we regrouped after that event and performed extremely well on the balance beam,” Plocki said. “We continued to get even better on floor and finished out on our strongest event, vault. I was very pleased that we came back after the shaky start and did a great job for the rest of the meet.”

Michigan didn’t compete any all-arounders at the meet. At the beginning of last week, Plocki decided to rest Sampson on vault and Zurales on floor because those specific events are the most taxing on their bodies. By not vaulting or tumbling for a week, Plocki hoped to allow time for their bodies to recuperate.

“These two in particular have been doing a phenomenal job all season long,” Plocki said. “They’ve been incredibly consistent, but it really takes a toll on their bodies when they’re training all week and then competing in the all-around every single weekend.

“We know that if we want them to feel good and be competing this well at the end of the season when we need them to be that we’ve got to give them some breaks here and there.”