- Erin Kirkland/Daily
By Isabella Achenbach, For the Daily
Published January 16, 2012
Last Friday night was the first event of the season for the No. 10 Michigan women’s gymnastics team at the newly renovated Crisler Center. Competing against No. 18 Ohio State, the pressure was definitely on.
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The Wolverines ended the competition with a final score of 195.500, besting the Buckeye total of 195.175. Four Michigan gymnasts won individual titles for specific events, including junior captain Katie Zurales on beam and in the all-around.
There were four events being judged — vault, bars, balance beam, and floor. After both the vault and the bars rotations, Michigan was up, 98.325-97.650, a pretty significant lead in gymnastics competition.
Then came time for the beam. After sophomores Joanna Sampson and Reema Zakharia fell in the middle of their routines and others looked wobbly, Ohio State was back in the match, ahead by just .225.
“The kids have done really, really well (in practice), so actually I was a little bit surprised that we didn’t do as well as we have been doing on beam,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki.
The floor exercise was the final rotation — a game changer for Michigan. Junior Natalie Beilstein won first place in this event, tying a career-high of 9.925.
“Our strongest event for the team as a whole (is) floor,” Sampson said. We all really love having fun with the crowd and the judges, and everyone on the sidelines gets so into it.”
“Overall, I think we did great on three events for the first meet,” Plocki said. “Had we stayed on beam, right now we would be sitting with one of the highest opening scores in the country, so I’m very optimistic about what I think we’re capable of this year and excited to have this first one behind us.”
The team has changed a lot since last year, losing five seniors including Kylee Botterman, the 2011 NCAA All-Around Champion. The Wolverines gained just two freshman, Sachi Sugiyama and Miele. This season, the team is not only smaller in numbers but also younger.
“There’s been all this conversation about how we graduated five kids, we have no seniors, we lost all of our leadership,” Plocki said. “In reality, I think we do have some underclassmen on this team that are becoming really good leaders. They’ve really banded together and they’re ready to go out and prove to the world that they can still be good without Botterman and some of the seniors.”
The team certainly proved they were capable in this event.
“I was really excited for my team to bring it and to show everyone what a young team can do,” Zurales said. “I know we’re small but everyone’s ready and everyone’s feeling really confident.”
The team prepared for the season throughout the fall and has had a few mock intrasquads and one official intrasquad.
“I think (the intrasquad) got everyone exposed to the competition setting and also got the freshman in Crisler Center,” Zurales said. “It helped to get the nerves out and to be able to also visualize yourself doing your routine.”
This Saturday, the women’s gymnastics team will compete against No. 22 Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“I think next week we’ll be ready to go and really do our best on everything,” Sampson said. “As a team I think we’re just gonna do a little bit more of the fine tweaking now that we’ve actually gotten out, shown what we can do, and really gotten the season going.”