Crisler Center hosted an exciting atmosphere Saturday with the fans’ first chance since April to watch the Michigan women’s gymnastics team compete. From the crowd to the celebrity judges — who included former football players to radio personalities — most of the building clapped along to senior Nicole Artz’s floor routine, which she concluded with her signature point at the judges.
The meet between the Wolverines and Eastern Michigan may have just been an opportunity for the women to practice their routines in a competition setting, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t taking it seriously.
After trailing at the end of the first rotation, the Wolverines stepped it into gear and earned a victory, 196.200-194.750.
Five new freshmen joined this season’s roster, and they had to step up. A wrist injury kept out sophomore Olivia Karas — last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year — who is still recovering from surgery in the summer.
Michigan’s first rotation was on the vault. Three freshmen competed and proved that nerves wouldn’t affect them. Senior Talia Chiarelli stumbled on her landing, though fortunately for the Wolverines, her score was dropped.
Meanwhile, Eastern Michigan was competing on the bars. Natalie Gervais slipped off the bar during a release move and could not continue her routine. She received a zero for her performance and didn’t compete again for the rest of the day, but her teammates kept the competition alive.
Michigan fared much better on the bars. It finished all six routines cleanly and freshman Lexi Funk stuck her first career landing. But, it was Artz and junior Brianna Brown who shined in this event. They both finished with a 9.925 and pulled the Wolverines into the lead.
Funk and freshman Polina Shchennikova were the lead-off routines on the beam, an event that demands near perfection. Though they did wobble at times, they finished what appeared to be solid routines. They were awarded a 9.650 and 9.300, respectively. Michigan coach Bev Plocki saw decent performances and didn’t think the scores reflected them, and she soon found out why.
“I said something to the judge and she said, ‘The celebrities gave her a 9.0,’ and they thought because she had a stumble on her dismount they took it from a 10.0 to a 9.0,” Plocki said. “I was like, ‘Dudes, you can have two falls for a 9.0.’ But I mean, that’s the fun of it, hearing commentary from a person who doesn’t really know or understand. It’s fun to hear what are the things they appreciate about it.”
Sophomore Emma McLean earned a 39.400 for the day, securing her an all-around victory. Due to her hard work during fall workouts, she was able to add two more events to her competition.
“It was really fun,” McLean said. “The last time I did that was my senior year (in high school), and it was reminding me of what it was like and I really enjoyed it.”
It was an exciting experience for the entire team, but the fun of the day didn’t take the team’s attention away from the improvements it needs to make before the season starts in January.