Come to play.
Those are words that the Michigan women’s gymnastics team lives by. But for senior Natalie Wojcik, there isn’t much time left to make them count.
In 2019, the Wolverines’ season ended in disappointing fashion at the NCAA Championships Semifinals, sending then-freshman Wojcik and her Michigan teammates home feeling unfulfilled.
In the three years since then, Wojcik has come to play — helping her team win the National Championship in 2021, the Big Ten Championship in 2022 and now fueling a run towards a second consecutive championship proves it.
“She’s an incredible athlete, and she cares deeply about her teammates and our team,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “It’s great when you have somebody that’s that talented that still cares about putting the team first.”
But time is running out, and as the Wolverines approach the NCAA Semifinals, Wojcik also nears what could be her final performance.
That is, if they cannot advance to the championship final.
Regardless of what happens in the coming week, Wojcik will leave Michigan a national champion. But the most pressing question remains:
How will her story end?
As a freshman, Wojcik wasted no time establishing her role on the team. She quickly found a spot in the rotation of all four events where she collected 15 all-around scores of 39.000 points or higher — the most by any Michigan gymnast in history.
In the eighth meet of her collegiate career, she earned her first perfect 10 on the vault. Since then, Wojcik has collected four additional perfect scores — two more on vault, and two on beam.
At the NCAA Championships that year, Wojcik won the national championship on balance beam with a 9.950; however, the inaugural chapter of her story ended with her team’s third-place finish in the semifinal.
Wojcik exhibited her tremendous talent, but also illustrated that you need more than skill to carry a team to victory.
You need a leader.
In her sophomore season, COVID-19 robbed Wojcik of an opportunity to show her character development and prove she can succeed both individually and in a team. But following the pandemic-induced shutdown, she stepped up.
Wojcik’s role in the Wolverines’ success over the past two seasons has been substantial, both in her performance and leadership.
“Natalie’s work ethic and her passion for the sport of gymnastics is amazing,” Plocki said. “And that’s what I want all my athletes to have, a genuine love and a passion for this sport.”
Going into her third year, Wojcik had a lot to prove; and finally, she could control her narrative. The narrative she wrote — and the capabilities she demonstrated — exhibited the greatness she flashed in her freshman year.
In the 2021 NCAA Championship, Wojcik performed the penultimate routine on the bars — the event that decided the fate of the 2021 national title winner — and turned in a near-perfect routine, earning a 9.9875 score to help her team clinch the championship.
This year, in the NCAA Regional Semifinal, Wojcik collected the individual uneven bars title, but Michigan appeared to be a shell of its normal self. It exerted little energy and displayed meager team unity.
Over the past four years, Wojcik’s experience and deep understanding of her sport has taught her the value of shortcomings in the quest for long-term success. That awareness was demonstrated in the regional final.
“Even if something goes wrong, there’s always something good to take away from the meet,” Wojcik said. “So focusing on those things and carrying them forward (is important).”
Two days after the Wolverines’ underwhelming performance, they regained their energy and displayed the talent that got them there. Led by Wojcik’s strong performance on each event that earned her the all-around title, they secured a spot at nationals.
Wojcik’s impact, though, went beyond the score.
“She’s a very strong and calm presence,” junior Gabby Wilson said. “We always know when she goes up that she’s gonna hit. I think that’s all we really need to know and it’s great.”
There are still a few pages remaining in Wojcik’s story. And as Michigan heads back to the NCAA Semifinals for a chance at another championship, she has the opportunity to make the most of her remaining time.
On April 14, when the Wolverines compete against No. 2 Florida, No. 7 Auburn and No. 11 Missouri, it can go one of two ways: Michigan can fall short as they did in Wojcik’s freshman season, or they can survive and advance.
Wojcik knows they have what it takes to do the latter.
“We are where we’re meant to be and we know that we have even more potential than what we showed today,” Wojcik said following the Wolverines’ first place finish in the regional final. “We can go into nationals in Texas and hopefully get a repeat.”
As time runs out and Wojcik’s story nears its end, the final chapter remains unfinished. With a pen in hand, there remains one final question for Wojcik:
How will it be written?