When freshman Lauren Farley agitated a nagging ankle injury during warmups Saturday, the gymnast was pulled from her uneven bars and beam rotations. Senior Lauren Marinez was slated to fill in for Farley on floor, but was already in the lineup for both bars and beam. Someone else would have to fill those two empty spots.
That role went to junior Emma McLean.
For the past three years, McLean has been a staple for the Michigan women’s gymnastics team, making constant waves during floor and vault exercises. Last year, as a sophomore, McLean was even elected as co-captain for the upcoming 2017-18 season. But never before had she participated in the all-around.
Saturday, she did just that and more. The junior made her debut on beam and clinched a meet-winning score to allow the sixth-ranked Wolverines a win at the North Carolina State quad meet.
“This is such a prime example,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “I tell my team all the time, every team has three or four or even six great kids in an event, but the teams that are going to be there at the end of the season in the championship are the teams that can go seven, eight, nine people deep in their lineup, and those people can step up and really have the opportunity to be the heroes. Because, really, everybody expects your top six to hit and do well, but when you are the seventh or eighth or ninth person in the depth chart and you’re put in a clutch position like that and you come through, it’s like bringing new life to the team.”
McLean’s performance did, in fact, bring new life, as Michigan matched its third-highest beam score in program history to come back from a three-tenths deficit in the final rotation of the meet. The Wolverines took first with a 196.775, followed by North Carolina State with a 196.575. North Carolina and Brown rounded out the four-team bracket with a 196.050 and 192.450, respectively.
For Michigan, the meet began on floor — characteristically a higher-scoring event for the team. However, McLean was the only gymnast to score a 9.900. Sophomore Lexi Funk recorded a 9.875 and senior Brianna Brown notched a 9.800, but the other three scores fell at 9.775, 9.750 and 9.675.
Trailing the Wolfpack into the second rotation, the Wolverines featured a dominating performance on vault where three gymnasts — McLean, freshman Syd Townsend and senior Paige Zaziski — all scored a 9.900 to tie for second and push Michigan to a 49.425 to regain the lead.
“I was pleased to see us stick or come closer to sticking the improved vault landings,” Plocki said. “We either seem to be hot or cold in that event, and we did well there so I’m hoping that that can become more consistent.”
But even though vault went hot, the uneven bars fell cold. With a rotation score of 48.775, the Wolverines again found themselves trailing North Carolina State, but this time with three-tenths separating the two schools. Senior Brianna Brown won the event with a 9.950 and Townsend followed closely behind with a 9.875, but Michigan had to count a fall in the event after Zaziski recorded a 9.350 and McLean scored just a 6.200.
Had the bars rotation gone without the fall, McLean could have been expected not to compete on beam. But it became necessary to have the entire beam rotation compete, with McLean serving as anchor in her collegiate debut. With a three-tenths deficit in tow, the Wolverines found themselves counting on a pressure-heavy beam rotation to beat out the Wolfpack for the win.
Funk and Zaziski kicked off the event with a 9.900 each, but Brown had several deductions and finished with a 9.300. The following three gymnasts — sophomore Polina Shchennikova, Marinez and McLean — would all have to help make up for lost points.
And they did just that.
Shchennikova tallied a 9.875, followed by Marinez with a 9.925 for second overall. And McLean’s 9.875 was enough to match Shchennikova at fifth and put the Wolverines in first.
“It was pretty awesome,” McLean said. “I’ve never really competed on beam before, and when I have it’s been in an exhibition and hasn’t really been that great. But practice has been good lately and I just kind of relied on that and trusted myself. And had fun, most importantly.”
With the win, Michigan advances to 8-1 on the season. With just two more dual meets and only one more tournament next weekend — which most closely resembles the atmosphere and setup of post-season tournaments — a tough meet like this one doesn't go unnoticed by Plocki and her team.
“I come away being pleased, not thrilled,” Plocki said. “I mean, you can’t be thrilled when you have to count a fall, but it’s definitely a big improvement for us, for a road score, and I could not be more proud of my team for the way they responded at the end of the meet.”