Ordinarily, the mindset of the defending national champions heading into the postseason wouldn’t be redemption.
However, the No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team, who were defeated by Minnesota at the 2021 Big Ten Championships last season, had something to prove.
On Saturday, the Wolverines took home their twenty-sixth Big Ten Championship crown with a historic score of 198.200, topping No. 12 Michigan State (197.050) and No. 23 Iowa (196.950).
“It always feels great coming out on top,” senior Abby Heiskell said. “But this one definitely meant a little bit more to us… because last year we didn’t win, and we ended up winning the national championship, but there’s always a little bit of bitter taste in our mouth from not being able to take home the (Big Ten) championship title, so this one definitely meant a lot to us.”
The Wolverines came out strong with a 9.950 title-winning performance by senior Natalie Wojcik on their ninth-ranked balance beam event. And they only built on that momentum en route to the first-ever 198-plus score in Big Ten Championship history.
Following Wojcik’s phenomenal performance on the beam and a 49.375 team score, the Wolverines headed to the floor exercise, where they rank No. 1 in the nation.
Last week’s program record-breaking floor routine was not an easy act to follow, but senior Abby Brenner led off the second rotation with a 9.900, followed by Heiskell’s event-winning 9.950. Michigan posted five 9.900-plus scores on the floor, and from the end of that rotation, the championship was no longer in question.
“I think that we came into Big Tens with the mindset of ‘we have something to prove here,’” Heiskell said. “We do better when we go into meets…knowing that we have something to prove and that we need to make a statement.”
In the third rotation, the Wolverines proved why they are the best in the nation on vault, as Wojcik, Heiskell and sophomore Naomi Morrison posted three consecutive 9.950s. With anticipation building for the first 10.0 of the meet, junior Sierra Brooks delivered her second perfect vault of the season to take the event title and boost Michigan to a 49.725 team score on vault.
“Sierra has done so many vaults that have been deserving of a 10,” Heiskell said. “I couldn’t be more proud of her. She is just what you look for in an athlete. She is consistent as can be, and I’m glad that she is getting those scores that she should have been getting all along.”
Following Brooks’ lead, Heiskell’s phenomenal night continued on the Wolverines’ third-ranked uneven bars event. Leading off the event with a 9.950, she earned her third title-winning score of the day en route to the all-around victory with a score of 39.700. Freshman Jacey Vore anchored the Wolverines, producing the final score that they needed to secure the victory and the championship.
“I just love seeing Abby Heiskell, as a senior, really getting the accolades that she deserves,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “It’s exciting for her to step up and win the all-around.”
Heiskell is the third Wolverine to win the all-around this season, following up on her Big Five meet all-around title from February 18. She is the tenth Wolverine all-time to win the all-around at the Big Ten Championships, and her teammates were elated to see her do so.
When Heiskell’s victory was announced, her teammates lifted her on their shoulders with chants of “Heisky! Heisky! Heisky!”
“Abby Heiskell is phenomenal,” Brooks said. “I always tell her whenever we’re at practice, I just love watching her go. I get so excited, (because) her form is amazing, and she’s extremely consistent, so I don’t think that there’s a more deserving individual to get that title.”
It is safe to say that the Wolverines have redeemed themselves and are now looking towards regionals, where they continue their bid at a repeat national championship. In order to do that, they have to keep up the pressure to prove themselves and not get complacent.
“I think that we’re on the perfect track right now, (and) going in as the underdogs or (at least) having that mentality helps us a lot,” Brooks said. “Just seeing if we can continue that will help us be able to bring it home again.”