The 2021 gymnastics National Championship came down to the very last routine of the meet. Junior Abby Heiskell stared down the beam as she mounted it. As she performed her routine, she completed each skill with an intention to do it perfectly, a lesson Michigan coach Bev Plocki has drilled into the mind of her gymnasts all season. Heiskell showed no ounce of doubt in any of her skills, and when she finished the routine with a stuck dismount, she proved that she was capable of being there for her team in the moment it needed it most.
Heiskell, joined by her teammates, could not peel their eyes from the scoreboard, and neither could Oklahoma. Waiting for only junior Olivia Trautman’s score on floor and Heiskell’s score on beam, the teams sat tied at 198.0750. Trautman’s score came in at a 9.9375, leaving Heiskell’s routine to need a score of 9.8500 or better to win the meet for the Wolverines.
When the number came in on the scoreboard, a 9.9250, the team, the coaches and the fans erupted. Michigan would be the 2021 National Champion, the first Michigan women’s gymnastics team to ever win a National Championship. The team clinched a program record 198.2500 in the competition of its life.
“We’ve talked about this for so long, and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually happening. Oh my gosh, the meet is over, and we’re national champions,’ ” sophomore Sierra Brooks said. “So much went into this, it’s so amazing seeing our hard work pay off.”
Michigan clinched the win, in the end, by securing the lead they held onto the entire meet. Coming into the Finals, Oklahoma was ranked first and Michigan second, based on the semifinal scores, but the Sooners were never given a chance to shine.
Michigan started the meet on floor with six strong routines, all counted scores at a 9.9125 or higher. Junior Natalie Wojcik led the pack, scoring a 9.9500, landing all of her tumbling passes smoothly and without fault. Sophomore Gabby Wilson also posted an impressive score of 9.9375, and the solid performance from the rest of her teammates landed the Wolverines at a 49.6250, only 0.0250 points short of their record floor score yesterday.
Oklahoma’s start on vault left them trailing by 0.0500 to start the meet, a deficit they never overcame. Utah had a solid bars rotation as well, scoring a 49.4250. Florida, who, prior to the weekend, was seeded to place first, had two falls on the beam, forcing the team to count one extremely low score that they would never recover from.
Michigan carried their energy to the vault for the second rotation, where it was not only seeded first in the country, but had the highest team start value of any team in the competition, all vaults starting with a 10.0 start value. Heiskell began the event, sticking her one and a half Yurchenko, forcing the judges to search for any deduction. Her vault, and its score of a 9.9750 started the consistency of the event, which was followed up by another stuck vault from Wojcik, earning herself a 9.9375 and Brooks, who notched a 9.9750. The team’s vault performance extended their lead over the rest of the field even further, gaining a 0.1375 lead over Oklahoma at the halfway mark.
“(Vault’s) just been amazing,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “At the beginning of the year, we were doing big vaults, but we couldn’t get the landings, and it was a process. We absolutely peaked at the right time this year. … Right before the championship part of the season, we started being able to nail those 1.5s.”
Heiskell started off Michigan’s next rotation on bars with a stuck dismount. The Wolverines’ top scores of the rotation came from Brooks and junior Abby Brenner in her first competitive routine in months since hurting her ankle at the Big Five meet on Feb. 27. Their clutch performances earned both gymnasts a 9.9250, and kept Michigan with the same lead over Oklahoma as they had going into the event.
This lead, though, was deceptively large. The Wolverines had to move to the beam, a nerve racking event to conclude a meet on, while the Sooners ended on floor, whose scores were the highest of any event throughout the whole meet. Utah also trailed closely behind as they wrapped their meet up on the vault, another typically high scoring event.
“I just said to them: ‘Take a deep breath, exhale out all of the nervous energy and let’s just go do what we do, one routine at a time for six routines,’ ” Plocki said “We got this, breath in the confidence, be aggressive. That’s what we wanted them to do, was just go do confident, aggressive balance beam.”
Michigan’s rotation did not start as strong as they would have liked, with the highest of the first three routines coming from freshman Carly Bauman’s 9.8500. Wilson showed some wobbles, earning the lowest of the scores, a 9.7500. Meanwhile, Oklahoma scored highly on the floor, all of which coming in at high 9.8s. However, Brooks turned the rotation around for the Wolverines.
“Before I even went, I was on the verge of tears because I wanted it so bad for this team,” Brooks said. “I knew those routines were semi off, but I also trusted myself and the rest of the lineup, so I wanted to get out there and do my thing. I got on the beam and I just honestly approached it with as much confidence as I could ever have.”
Brooks performed her beam series perfectly, as well as the rest of her skills, all the way up to the stuck dismount to score a 9.9625. The incredibly high score made up for some of the points her former teammates had lost, but Wojcik and Heiskell still had to nail their routines for Michigan to have a shot at the win.
Wojcik one-upped her teammate, sticking every skill just as solidly and scoring a 9.9875, the highest beam score of the day. Her score, along with the scores of the Sooners on floor, brought the meet to a tie before the very last routine of the competition.
Heiskell handled the pressure with ease, flowing through each skill, punctuating her landings. Her skills on the beam, as well as her perfectly stuck dismount off earned her a 9.9250, well over the score the Wolverines needed to win the National Championship.
“It’s very hard to describe how it feels,” Plocki said. “This is 32 years I’ve been waiting for this feeling … It’s just an unbelievable pride and just an admiration for what our team has been through and the sacrifices that they’ve made. I knew this was possible because, for the first time, they have belief in themselves.”