Helped by strong performances from three of its freshmen, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team defeated Rutgers, West Virginia and No. 24 Iowa State in its season-opening meet at the Cancun Classic with an overall score of 196.05. Despite a slow start to the meet due to two falls on the balance beam, the 13th-ranked Wolverines (1-0) came back to sweep the podium on balance beam, uneven bars and vault.

The comeback on the balance beam was catalyzed by a strong performance from junior Maggie O’Hara. O’Hara’s 9.85 performance helped “stop the bleeding” and motivated the team towards their eventual comeback, according to Michigan coach Bev Plocki.

“I obviously would have liked to have had a do-over on the first-couple of beam routines,” Plocki said. “But that said, I’m really proud of the team for how they rallied back from that. We just have so much more upside from this meet, and I’m really excited about the opportunities we have this season.”

With many returning athletes still recovering from injuries, the Wolverines called upon younger athletes to fill in some of the gaps, and Michigan’s top-ranked freshman recruiting class stepped up. Freshmen Natalie Wojcik, Abby Brenner and Maddie Mariani all made their college debuts in the meet. Wojcik took first on vault, uneven bars and balance beam, and took home the all-around title with a score of 39.625, setting the school record for a freshman in her debut.

“I was a little nervous going in for sure,” Brenner said. “But nerves are good, and I was just super excited to finally just go out there and show the judges and the team what I had. This was just the first step, and I’m excited for what’s to come with the rest of this season.”

The break from school and the trip to Cancun also allowed the team to take time to relax and bond as a unit, something that helped take some of the pressure off their season opener. In addition to practices to prepare for the meet, the gymnasts spent a day on the beach, and a day on a catamaran that included shopping on an island off the coast of Mexico and swimming with dolphins.

This is the third time Michigan has won the Cancun Classic; the Wolverines also won in 2013 and 2016. 

Michigan will look to continue its success on the road next week as the team travels to Tuscaloosa, Ala. to face No. 6 Alabama, Bowling Green and No. 15 Denver on Jan. 11. The Wolverines will then face a series of Big Ten opponents, starting with a home meet against Michigan State on Jan. 18. 

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