For the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team, facing the best competition has become the norm. The prestige of the program has invited in competition from top talent across the nation.
This season alone, the Wolverines will face three of the top five teams ranked in the NACGC/W Preseason Coaches Poll. Friday, Michigan began its difficult schedule against fourth-ranked Alabama at the Crisler Center.
In a meet filled with a bevy of highs and lows, the Wolverines escaped with a narrow win, topping the Crimson Tide, 196.200 to 195.675. Highlighting Michigan’s victory were individual performances from junior Olivia Karas on her floor routine and senior Briana Brown on the uneven bars, scoring 9.925 and 9.900, respectively.
“We knew it was a really tough team,” Brown said. “But we’ve been working really hard and we’ve beaten Alabama before so we knew if we just trusted our training, if we just came out here and did what we knew how to do, it was gonna be just fine, and we had a lot of fun.”
The importance of competing against top-ranked opponents early and often is not lost on Michigan coach Bev Plocki, who places a special emphasis on scheduling the best of the best.
“I have always been of the belief that you are only as good as the teams you compete against,” Plocki said. “And the last couple years — this is not out of the norm for us. I really feel like you have to put yourself up against the best as a measuring stick.”
Now that Plocki has successfully lined up a laundry list of difficult opponents, the team’s preparation and energy must rise to that same elite level.
For these gymnasts, they will take that energy wherever they can get it, whether it comes from the crowd or their teammates.
“I feed off energy,” Karas said, “I always tell my teammates, ‘you’ve gotta be loud for me!’ But I love energy, I love the excitement of the crowd, I love looking at, like making eye contact with people in the crowd and getting excited, it gets me excited, and — I thought the crowd brought so much energy that just helped us in the end there.”
That was evident Friday. Karas’ floor routine — complete with a double Arabian — was met with a thunderous cheer from a 3,000-strong Crisler crowd. From her first pass, Karas drew a standing ovation from the rambunxious crowd and rode the high energy to an event-best score of 9.925.
While the camaraderie was a high point in Michigan’s performance, some aspects still need improvement as Brown mentioned the team’s landings and ability to compete what they’ve practiced could get better.
Plocki will be the first one to say there is no magic fix to help a gymnast stick a perfect landing every time. But even against No. 4 Alabama, Michigan displayed a patience and poise that carried it to victory.
“We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on here with people,” Plocki said. “But I’m really proud of the fact that, when things were not going our way, and you know, we were under so much pressure, we could have easily caved — but sometimes you just have to keep fighting and believe that it’s worth the continued fight and you can come out with the win.”