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Record-breaking performances carry Wolverines to win over Penn State

Natasha Janardan/Daily
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By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published February 17, 2013

Gymnasts strive for perfection — a perfect 10 — each time they set foot on the competition floor. Few have come closer than junior co-captain Joanna Sampson, who anchored the floor exercise squad in the final rotation.

On Saturday afternoon, Sampson led the No. 3 Wolverines (5-1 Big Ten, 9-1 overall) to a season-best 197.375-196.700 victory over Penn State (2-3, 7-5) with a dominating floor performance that was highlighted by an incredibly difficult double-layout opening pass. After she nailed her final tumbling pass, the crowd erupted in thunderous applause and chanted “10” over and over again. Sampson received a 10.000 from one judge and a 9.950 from the other, culminating in a career-best 9.975 on floor exercise.

“I saw all my teammates go in front of me, the scores they were being given and the routines they were doing,” Sampson said. “I just really used that to motivate myself to do the best routine that I possibly could and it definitely was one of the best ones.”

“I couldn’t be happier with it, but until I get that 10, there’s still ways to improve. I’m going to keep fighting, keep working at it, and just keep going from there.”

In addition to Sampson, the rest of the floor lineup performed exceptionally well, matching the school record of a 49.625. Freshman Briley Casanova — competing for the first time on floor — recorded a 9.875 and junior Stephanie Colbert recorded a career-best 9.900. Senior Natalie Beilstein and junior Reema Zakharia tied Colbert to place third in the event. Senior co-captain Katie Zurales took second with a career-high 9.950.

“When we end on floor at home, it’s just so exciting,” Colbert said. “We just used our energy and had a lot of fun out there, and I think that’s probably the best floor rotation we’ve had all season. We have also focused a lot on floor landings and that definitely showed.”

Michigan performed in front of a sellout crowd at Cliff Keen Arena instead of its usual home at Crisler Center due to a time conflict with Crisler Center’s rededication weekend.

“It’s a different atmosphere than Crisler,” Sampson said. “It’s a second home to us. It’s so much more intimate. It’s more homey, even, than Crisler because you’re so much closer to the crowd and almost all the seats get filled, whereas in Crisler, it’s such a big arena that it’s hard to fill.”

Colbert led the team off with a stellar vault rotation highlighted by clean landings with a stuck Yurchenko full that scored a season-best 9.875.

“I took a couple weeks off of vault to rest a little bit and I think that really helped me,” Colbert said. “I was really excited to be back in the vault lineup tonight. It’s always good to lead the team off, especially on the first event. I think we just carried that energy throughout the rest of the meet.”

Sophomore Sachi Sugiyama and Beilstein performed solid Yurchenko one-and-a-halves to tie Colbert for a second-place finish behind Penn State’s Madison Merriam’s 9.950 on vault.

The rest of the lineup — Zurales, Sampson, and freshman Austin Sheppard — scored 9.850’s to round out the Wolverines’ vault total to a 49.325.

“This past week, we’ve definitely been focusing on sticking and I know we’ll continue to do that (on vault),” Sampson said. “It’s the same thing with bars and beam though, sticking that final dismount landing because that’s the last impression you make on the judges.”

Moving on to the uneven bars, Beilstein performed uncharacteristically, taking extra swings and falling on her high-bar release, to score an 8.750. The rest of the team performed clean sets under pressure to drop her score from the event total and tally a season-best 49.375.

“That’s something that this team this year is doing very differently than what we’ve done in the past,” Sampson said. “Last year, we definitely struggled with that we would have a fall somewhere in the lineup and struggle to gain the confidence, to get the momentum back going on that event but for whatever reason this year, I think having not lost anybody really has helped with that.”

Senior Brittnee Martinez, Sampson, and Sugiyama finished first, second and third on bars with scores of 9.950, 9.925, and 9.900, respectively. Sugiyama tied her career best while Martinez and Sampson set new career highs. Each of their routines was underlined by sky-high releases and stuck dismounts, generating enormous rounds of applause afterwards.

“I’ve been working on those handstands on bars and just trying to pull it together in a meet, and it finally paid off,” Martinez said.

On beam, Martinez also triumphed with a wobble-free, career-high 9.900 routine featuring a stuck back handspring layout flight series and a new roundoff to one-and-a-half twisting dismount. Sampson and Zurales tied for third with a 9.850 on beam. Despite a shaky rotation from the other Michigan gymnasts that narrowed the margin over the Nittany Lions by only a tenth of a point (147.750-147.650), the Wolverines were able to score a 49.050 on beam and count zero falls on their way to a victory.

Sampson tied her career-best and captured the all-around title with a 39.600, and Zurales finished third with a 39.400.

In a meet filled with personal bests, the Wolverines carried their momentum from start to finish to defeat Penn State.