Lauren Farley jumped up and down, threw her hands in the air and cheered: “We’re going to Texas. We’re going to Texas!”
Mere moments earlier, the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team had punched its ticket to the NCAA Championships.
“It’s honestly the best thing I could have asked for,” said senior Olivia Karas. “There’s no better feeling.”
The competition to advance to the final round kicked off Friday afternoon, and the Wolverines faced No. 22 Ohio State, No. 24 Penn State and No. 10 Alabama. Walking into Crisler Center, they had one goal — advance to Saturday.
Opening the meet on vault, Michigan did what it’s been aiming to do all season — stick landings. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Natalie Wojcik led the charge earning a 9.925 for her nearly perfect Yurchenko one-and-a-half. The scores added up to a season high of 49.425.
“We’ve been working so hard on improving our lands on vault,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki on Friday. “We saw it pay off today and I hope that will give us more confidence going into tomorrow.”
Despite a strong first rotation, the team looked stiff on the bars. Its handstands weren’t 90 degrees, and the landings weren’t stuck.
On floor, traditionally a high-scoring event for the Wolverines, they only received one score above a 9.900. Karas — ranked twenty third on floor nationally — did not compete. Wojcik won the event for the day with a 9.925. Plocki made the decision to scratch the sixth gymnast because Michigan had clinched the second qualifying spot already.
Overall, the Wolverines had a solid performance, but Plocki saw room for improvement.
“We made, not major mistakes, but we made some, some things that we’re going to have to clean up for tomorrow,” Plocki said.
Saturday night featured No. 10 Alabama, No. 2 UCLA, No. 14 Nebraska and the Wolverines. With such fierce competition, Michigan couldn’t afford to make the same mistakes on bars where it opened the meet.
Routine after routine, the Wolverines stepped up and got the job done. Their score had improved by .150 from Friday afternoon, but they sat in third place after the opening rotation.
With ground to make up heading to the balance beam, Michigan needed to hit its routines. Freshman Maddie Mariani tied her season-high score of 9.850. Wojcik anchored the rotation and tied her season-high score of 9.950. These scores carried the Wolverines to score of 49.425 for the rotation, good for second place and a .075 lead over Alabama.
“I got them together after beam,” Plocki said. “And I told them, ‘This is what great teams love. You thrive on the competition when it is like a half a tenth and you’re dueling it out routine for routine. We have to be that team that is hungry and is going to thrive on that adrenaline and not choke under the pressure.’ ”
Michigan spent the third rotation on floor. Karas was back in the lineup in her usual spot as anchor and hit a routine filled with personality and sass. She earned one of three 9.000s helping the Wolverines to a 49.450 and further extending their lead over the Crimson Tide.
Closing the meet on vault meant the Wolverines would finish earlier than the other three teams. Their rotation wasn’t as strong as it was on Friday — stuck landings were nowhere to be found. Still, they earned a 49.200 and a final score of 197.275.
Alabama sat in third place and finished the meet on beam. By the time Michigan finished vault, the Crimson Tide were only halfway through their lineup. So they did the only thing they could do — wait.
“When we finished vault before and they were still doing beam routines I told every single one of them I was proud of them,” Plocki said. “It wouldn’t have mattered the outcome.”
Needing a perfect 10 to tie, the Crimson Tide’s last gymnast mounted the beam and performed a nearly flawless routine. Her score flashed — a 9.950. The Wolverines went wild.