After a below-average vault rotation to kick off the meet, the No. 2 Michigan women’s gymnastics team trailed No. 1 Oklahoma by 0.425.
But in a moment when they could have folded, the Wolverines — on Senior Night, fittingly — relied on their veteran leaders to secure an upset victory.
“The leadership this year — we had four captains this year, which we’ve never had before, but it’s been amazing,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “(Graduate) Natalie (Wojcik), (senior) Gabby (Wilson), (senior) Sierra (Brooks) and (senior) Nicoletta (Koulos), and they have been just amazing. They’re empathetic, and they’re always there when somebody needs to talk or somebody has a problem, but they’re also very good at giving that push when they need to give a push.”
Facing a deficit after the first rotation, the Wolverines needed big scores to shrink the margin — and the seniors provided them.
Graduate Abby Heiskell led off the second rotation with a stuck landing on the uneven bars, pumping her arms in celebration as if she knew that she nailed a 9.950. Wilson’s clean handstands and stuck landing on a blind to pike Jaeger dismount replicated that score, building on Heiskell’s momentum. Koulos tacked on a 9.850 with another stuck landing, leading up to an event title-winning 9.975 from Brooks — a routine that prompted Plocki and her teammates to flash 10s in the air.
“It makes the crowd go nuts,” Wilson said. “Just like oh my gosh, that might be a 10, just kind of waiting for the score and the anticipation of it all. But also as an athlete knowing that Bev thought that was a great routine, it’s a great feeling.”
The seniors continued to be the difference makers on the balance beam, where Wojcik and Wilson shared the event title with 9.975s that again shot Plocki’s hands into the air. Those routines were paramount in the Wolverines’ comeback victory, but so was the constant leadership and composure the seniors provide.
“You come in as a freshman and you’re learning the ropes and trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t,” Brooks said. “Then being a senior, you get to look back and shape the underclassmen. I’ve loved having that responsibility and being able to do that.”
Plocki praised the leadership of the seniors, who have all been captains either last season or this season — or both, in Brooks’s case. Wojcik and Heiskell both returned for a fifth year, and their veteran experience has been crucial to Michigan’s success and position as one of the nation’s best.
“It’s been huge, absolutely huge to the depth, high level of depth for our program,” Plocki said. “I think that you see across the country, consistency and scores that have been higher this year than they have been, and I attribute that a lot to a lot of these really experienced super seniors that stayed for an extra year. Natalie and Heiskell, my gosh, I can’t even say enough about the leadership and the energy.”
Koulos, Heiskell and Wojcik led off the final rotation on the floor for Michigan, down 0.150 — a significant margin, but one far smaller than the deficit it faced at the beginning of the second rotation. But the three seniors, with near-faultless passes and landings, narrowed the gap with three consecutive 9.925s. After junior Naomi Morrison’s perfect first pass earned her a 9.950, the Wolverines were within reach when Brooks stepped up to the mat.
And with a solid 9.900 routine, Brooks put Michigan in a position to clinch victory. While the judges calculated Ragan Smith’s final beam score for the Sooners, Wilson began her routine in the anchor position.
As Wilson began to dance and tumble her way across the mat, nailing every twist and flip, Michigan eagerly awaited Smith’s score. If it was below a 9.825, the Wolverines would secure the upset victory with Brooks’s routine.
But if there was any chance that Brooks’s routine wouldn’t be enough, Wilson’s routine cast it away. Her 9.975 in the anchor position closed out an impressive Senior Night comeback victory for the Wolverines and secured the all-around title with a career-best 39.800.
On Senior Night, it was the seniors who made all the difference. And with the big win, Michigan may launch into the No. 1 national ranking, and behind the strength of its senior — and super senior — class, it could turn that into another national championship.