Following a second-place finish in its regional second round, the No. 3 Michigan women’s gymnastics team had something to prove.
And Saturday night, the Wolverines proved why they were the Raleigh region’s No. 1 seed.
A dominant final two rotations propelled the Wolverines (26-2, 9-0 Big Ten) to their 14th NCAA Regional Championship win — and their 26th Nationals appearance — over No. 11 Missouri (13-5, 3-4 SEC), No. 14 UCLA (5-6, 3-4 Pac 12) and No. 22 Iowa (18-12, 5-5 Big Ten). With an overall score of 197.800, Michigan topped Missouri’s — who also qualified for Nationals — 197.425, UCLA’s 197.400, and Iowa’s 197.075.
“Thursday was definitely a little bit of a shakier day for us,” senior Natalie Wojcik said. “But coming into today, we really wanted to reset and focus on confidence and holding our heads high, walking into the meet and knowing that we deserve to be here.”
Saturday night, Michigan came to play.
In the first rotation, each of the Wolverines’ scores were 9.850, leading to a respectable 49.250 after the first rotation on the balance beam. But trailing UCLA by 0.300 heading into the second rotation, on paper, it seemed like Michigan might be headed for a Thursday night repeat.
The Wolverines made sure that wasn’t the case.
Thursday, Michigan was flat, lacking their characteristic jumping and yelling after each routine.
Saturday night, they returned to their usual selves, complete with fist-pumps after senior Abby Heiskell’s stuck landing, even after a below-average team score on the event.
“When there’s some type of adversity that they need to step up for, I think that’s when they’re at their best,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said.
Michigan then headed to its first-ranked floor exercise, where it was missing two of its usual six members of the rotation. In preparation for Nationals, the Wolverines rested the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year — junior Sierra Brooks — while Heiskell sat with a sore heel. So they needed either sophomore Reyna Guggino or sophomore Jenna Mulligan to step up and deliver a countable score. Mulligan had exhibitioned on floor multiple meets during the season, but had never had a score counted for the Wolverines.
Senior Abby Brenner delivered a 9.850 for the Wolverines to start off that rotation, and her performance was met with resounding cheers, hugs and high fives from her teammates.
Then, Mulligan delivered the 9.825 the Wolverines needed, and behind Wojcik’s 9.950 event title-sharing score, they closed the gap to 0.200 behind UCLA heading into their first-ranked vault event.
Wojcik started off the rotation with a 9.875, followed by Heiskell’s 9.850 and sophomore Naomi Morrison’s 9.900. With the momentum building for the Wolverines, Brooks notched a near-perfect vault with a stuck landing, earning a 9.975.
Up next was junior Gabby Wilson, Michigan’s star on the floor exercise, having earned two perfect 10s on that event this season.
Wilson hit off of the vault, twisted in the air and landed her vault with a picture-perfect stuck landing, securing her first career vault perfect 10 that tied the Wolverines with the Bruins headed into the final rotation.
“It was definitely great to have that 9.975 from Sierra and the 10 from Gabby, but it was a great vault rotation from the first five,” Plocki said. “And that brought a lot of energy for us to go in and close out the meet strong. We know we’re a good bar team. We’re confident in our ability to be able to hit the handstands and stick the dismounts.”
And Michigan did.
Heiskell led off the final rotation with a stuck landing, earning her an event title-sharing 9.950. Brenner followed it up with a 9.900, matched by Brooks two gymnasts later. Wojcik hit a 9.925 with a near-perfect Yurchenko and stuck landing to earn the all-around title with a score of 39.600.
Freshman Jacey Vore, who was pulled from the lineup last-minute Thursday night, stepped up to the springboard with a chance to clinch the Nationals berth for the Wolverines. Capping the Wolverines’ 49.525 overall final rotation, Vore hit a 9.850 to send Michigan to Nationals with a first-place finish in the regional final.
“This just proves that we’re doing exactly what we need to do, we’re where we’re meant to be,” Wojcik said. “And we even know that we have even more potential than what we showed today, and that we can go into Nationals in Texas and hopefully get a repeat.”
If they have the same confidence and execution as Saturday, they’re sure to have a shot.