Prior to the start of Saturday’s meet, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team practiced its usual warm-up rituals: singing, dancing and getting loose. But this time there was an extra step in the routine — a game of pass the volleyball with Maryland.
“We were all just kind of hanging out, waiting for warm-ups to start,” said freshman Natalie Wojcik. “They invited us over to start playing. It was just a way for both teams to have fun and kind of bond before the meet started.”
A friendly game of volleyball didn’t stop the 8th-ranked Wolverines (5-2-0 overall, 1-0 Big Ten) from rolling over the Terrapins (0-1, 3-1) and posting a season-high overall score of 196.400.
Michigan did so without two of its top contributors. Junior Maggie O’Hara, a regular on the uneven bars and balance beam this season, was injured during warm-ups. Senior Emma McLean, a crucial part of the floor and vault lineups, was out for an undisclosed reason.
“Those are the kind of events that happen, that sudden change sort of thing where you find what kind of a team you have,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki.
The Wolverines opened the meet on the uneven bars, where sophomore Anne Maxim debuted with a 9.700, and Wojcik earned her first of three event titles for the night with a 9.875. Collectively, Michigan earned 49.025, which was good enough for a .30 lead, that would only grow after each coming rotation.
After bars, the Wolverines headed to vault. Notable contributions came from freshman Abby Brenner and senior Olivia Karas, receiving scores of 9.825 and 9.775, respectively. Again, Wojcik shined, anchoring with a perfectly executed Yurchenko 1.5 with a stuck landing. Her teammates ran to her, embraced her and chanted “10! 10! 10!” — hoping to see the judges award her a perfect score. She received a 9.925.
“I just wish she got the respect she deserves,” Plocki said. “If she’d have done those same routines in a different conference I feel like she would’ve gotten some 10s tonight. What she’s doing is worth every bit of that perfect 10 that’s eluded her so far.”
Headed to floor without McLean, Michigan needed someone to step up. Wojcik and Karas answered the call. Karas — who ruptured her Achilles last year on a double pike — won the event with a 9.925, her second title on floor this season. Wojcik tumbled and danced her way to a 9.900, a personal season-high.
“Olivia Karas did the double pike at the end of her floor routine for the first time this year,” Plocki said. “You know, she’s competed floor a couple times but she’s had a watered-down last pass.”
After receiving a season-high 49.200 for floor exercise and widening their established lead, the Wolverines closed the meet on balance beam.
“The girls talk about having a party on floor,” Plocki said. “Going out there and really enjoying the performance part of it. Coming off a good performance on floor, we had to take that deep breath. They did an excellent job of getting themselves in the zone where they needed to be.”
Freshman Maddie Mariani made her debut, anchoring the event with a 9.750. Missing both O’Hara and McLean enabled freshman Abby Heiskell to debut and compete in an exhibition routine after being sidelined two weeks due to the removal of her appendix.
Wojcik earned her third event title of the night with a 9.925 on beam. Her impressive performances combined for the all-around score of 39.625, tying her season best. Wojcik has already earned 10 event and four all-around titles just four meets into her collegiate career.
“So many highlights tonight,” Plocki said. “I just wish that our scores reflected the kind of performance that I felt we had. I couldn’t be any more proud of this team, and the people who were not expecting to go and really stepped up.”
Moving forward, Michigan will continue to strive for perfection and hope to see some perfect 10s in its future.