The Michigan women’s gymnastics team believes in one core philosophy: come to play.
On Thursday, the Wolverines did not embody that mantra.
In the second round of the NCAA Raleigh Regional, the No. 3 Wolverines (23-1 overall) faced No. 14 UCLA (5-6), Maryland (18-9) and UNC (11-7). They finished second with a score of 197.400 to the Bruins’ 197.800, earning a spot in the regional finals.
“Regionals is one of the hardest meets of the season,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “It’s easy to get up for Big Ten’s and conference pride and championship rings and all that, but when you go into regionals … it’s a box that has to be checked.”
The Wolverines began their night on floor, an event where a strong senior trio, Abby Brenner, Abby Heiskell and Natalie Wojcik, usually brings energy and intensity that helps fuel their team. On Thursday, that was not the case.
Michigan was unable to perform at its usual level that has amounted to the No. 1 floor ranking in the country, putting up a 49.350 — 0.225 points below its Big Ten Championship output and 0.285 below its average.
As UCLA ramped up its energy — which in turn fueled its performance — the Wolverines found themselves lethargic.
“Our energy and our focus was not exactly where it needed to be,” Plocki said.
The struggles grew greater as Michigan moved to the vault. Sophomore Reyna Guggino began the rotation with a fall that resulted in a 9.350 score. Although her teammates avoided making the same mistake, none of the performances represented the high-level display from the Wolverines in the Big Ten Championship.
After the first two events, UCLA maintained a 0.100 advantage over Michigan. Approaching the vault, the Wolverines hoped to change that.
Coming off a stellar Big Ten Championship performance where she took home the individual uneven bars and all-around titles, Heiskell hoped to carry that into regionals.
In the first event — in which she scored a 9.900 — that seemed probable.
For the rest of Thursday’s regional, however, Heiskell fell short of success, both figuratively and literally. An underrotation on bars resulted in a score of 9.025 — her lowest score since the first meet of the 2021 season.
“We were not ourselves on the first three events,” Plocki said. “We made way too many mistakes (and) just weren’t sharp.”
Following Heiskell’s uncharacteristic outing, the Wolverines found themselves at a crossroads. They could succumb to defeat and celebrate a season capped with the Big Ten Championship. Or they could persevere.
Brenner made the decision for her team: They would persevere.
With a near-perfect routine capped with a skillful landing Brenner ran to her teammates while pumping her fists in the air. As Brenner’s energy grew, so did the confidence of her team.
“I probably have the most energy on this team,” Brenner said. “I know that’s a big asset for me and one of my strengths.”
Wojcik built off Brenner’s success, boasting a 9.950 score that earned her a share of the individual bar title. With her success, she proved that the Big Ten Championship — where she fell and received a 9.025 — was an anomaly.
Michigan went into the last rotation with the confidence that led it to a national championship in 2021 and the Big Ten Championship in 2022.
And the Wolverines certainly performed at those levels.
Four scores of 9.900 or higher amounted to a season-best 49.550 on the balance beam and second overall at the regional.
The Wolverines approach every meet with their “come to play” mentality, but on Thursday they fell short for their first two rotations.
“It’s not like this has shaken our confidence,” Plocki said. “But we know we’ve got to bring it … Saturday, way more than we did tonight at this meet.”