- Natasha Janardan/Daily
By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 10, 2013
The No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team proved on Sunday why it has deserved to be ranked in the top three every week this season.
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The Wolverines scored a season-high 197.575 points at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles to defeat No. 6 UCLA, California and Iowa. UCLA is one of only four teams — the other three being Alabama, Georgia and Utah — to have ever won the NCAA team title. Michigan (6-1 Big Ten, 16-1 overall) recorded its highest road score since the 2004 Big Ten Championships, where the team scored a 197.800.
Michigan junior co-captain Joanna Sampson, the No. 2 all-around gymnast in the country, topped Bruin redshirt senior Vanessa Zamarripa, the No. 1 gymnast in the country, 39.575-39.400 to win the quad meet.
Michigan began on the balance beam, the most pressure-filled event to start out on. Senior Brittnee Martinez, sophomore Annette Miele and freshman Briley Casanova led the team with identical scores of 9.800. Because of strict judging on the event and UCLA recording its season-best on vault, the Wolverines trailed the Bruins 49.375-48.925. Their total marked their only sub-49.000 beam score of the season.
“I thought we did very well on beam,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “I just think the judging was tight. We control things we have control over, so I’m not concerned. It’s not like we had a sub-par beam performance. I have no worries. We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing because it’s working.”
On the floor exercise, Michigan narrowed its gap by delivering near-perfect performances to score a 49.500. Sampson, ranked No. 1 in the nation on floor, won with a 9.950, marking her sixth straight victory on the event. UCLA senior Alyssa Pritchett earned a career-high to tie Sampson for the title. A trio of Wolverines – senior Natalie Beilstein, junior Reema Zakharia and sophomore Sachi Sugiyama – each scored a 9.900 to tie for third place.
“My landings were the best I’ve ever had so far this year,” Sugiyama said.
Added Zakharia: “I’ve been working on the little details in the gym and I’m glad I was able to translate what I’ve been doing in practice onto the competition floor. We were really focused on each and every one of our teammates’ routines and fed off each other’s energy.”
Michigan took a 0.200 lead over UCLA after the Wolverines scored a 49.550 on the vault, their highest vault total since Feb. 2008. Beilstein and Sampson recorded matching 9.925’s. Rounding out the top five with two 9.900’s were senior co-captain Katie Zurales, Zakharia, and Sugiyama. All five gymnasts stuck their vault landings.
“We stuck more vaults tonight than we’ve stuck in any competition this year,” Plocki said.
Michigan carried its momentum to the uneven bars, where it scored a season-best 49.575, marking the second highest bars total in program history.
“It was great because when we went over to finish up on bars, UCLA was coming into floor, which we know is their best event,” Plocki said. “We only had a two-tenths lead so we knew we had to hit bars really well and that’s exactly what we did.”
Miele performed in the leadoff position and scored a 9.300 after falling on her Tkatchev release move. But, her teammates performed exceptionally well and her score wasn't needed. Sugiyama won the event with a career-best 9.950.
“I just knew I had to put up a good performance to have Annette’s back,” Sugiyama said. “She had a rough time but we have a strong bar team and we just went up to rock it. I was a little nervous going in but I think I used that to my advantage.”
In a four-way tie for second, UCLA senior Monique de la Torre, Zurales, Martinez and Sampson each scored a 9.925, and junior Shelby Gies contributed a 9.850.
“If somebody makes a mistake before them, it does not have any impact whatsoever on their ability to go out there and perform,” Plocki said. “They overcame a fall and hit five awesome bar routines, which shows just how resilient and tough this group of athletes is.”
If the Wolverines qualify for nationals, they will have the opportunity to return to Pauley Pavilion on Apr. 19.
“It was nice to see the venue for where nationals is going to be at so we’re going to use this to our advantage for when we come back here,” Sugiyama said.