Sierra Brooks stepped up to the beam looking for redemption. One week after the senior gymnast took an uncharacteristic fall on the beam, Saturday provided an opportunity for Brooks to get back on track.
After splitting the beam last week, Brooks took the week in practice to modify her routine slightly. With her coaches instilling confidence in her, she switched her two layout series to a one layout series while accommodating her leap series to keep the level of difficulty up.
Brooks’ beam routine was just the tip of the iceberg for what turned out to be a season-best meet. Without winning an individual event title, it was Brooks’s consistency that powered her to an all-around title with a season-best 39.725.
The change could have been hard, as the series is something she’s competed with for more than six years. But the veteran wasn’t fazed. Brooks completed her beam routine with ease, as if that was the routine she had perfected for years, with a score of 9.950.
“Sierra is just an unbelievable rockstar,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “That young lady has her ‘you know what’ together in all facets of her life like President of SAAC (Student Athletic Advisory Committee), super, super, super smart student, captain of our team, 9.900s, rocks out.”
The glowing review from her coach is more than warranted. But as the reigning Big Ten Gymnast of the Year, Brooks really needs no introduction. Her consistency and leadership is paramount to the third-ranked Wolverines’ success, especially with their aspirations of winning a national title still firmly within reach.
Going into the meet, Brooks was looking for a mindset shift. She wanted to focus on herself — block out all the external noise. The onus was on her.
“Today, it was very much like, ‘Okay, we actually have a lot more power and control than we think,’ ” Brooks said. “I think that was the mindset of the team. Individually, I just wanted to take it event by event and really stress that to myself like you can’t think about floor when you’re on vault. I think that really worked out today.”
It worked out and then some.
Brooks started off the day with a stuck landing on the vault to earn herself a 9.950. The stuck landing ignited the 8,000-plus Crisler Center fans with a huge roar, getting the crowd going for the day. Always situated squarely in the middle of the lineup, Brooks anchors the Wolverines. Her energy, leadership and pinpoint landings constantly prove contagious.
Completing one of the most difficult dismounts currently competed in college gymnastics, Brooks put on a show on the bars. She stuck her landing with a double layout and a full twist to secure a 9.900. Her handstands were a bit aggressive, resulting in her arching her back, but early in the season that aggression is warranted as she continues to try things out.
Brooks’ beam routine was a point of emphasis in practice leading up to the meet. After struggling with her back handspring layout series on and off over the past nine months, it was time to make a confidence-boosting adjustment. Her coaches never lost confidence in her — transparent in their intentions to get Brooks a good beam hit under her belt. The adjustments immediately created success with her 9.950.
“It’s not a mental block,” Brooks said. “It’s more like those things with gymnastics. Sometimes skills go and we accept to some degree where it’s like, ‘oh I’ve hit it. I’ve been doing this skill for so many years.’ Then something is slightly off and you just kind of make it into a problem which I think most of us can attribute to that. … It’s definitely been on in the gym, which is where it’s been the frustrating part. No issues in the gym and then haven’t been competing it to that same capacity.”
With the beam in her rearview, Brooks looked forward to maintaining her consistency to lead the nation’s best floor team. But in her floor warmup, something looked awry.
“(Brooks) didn’t have the greatest warmup on floor with her pull-in,” Plocki said. “Before she went I just said, ‘Listen, you know how to do this stuff. So forget what went wrong and just go do it right.’ And she did. And I was like, ‘Why do you always psych me out and warm up like that?’ And she just laughs.”
The pre-routine talk clearly righted Brooks as she started with a stuck landing on her full twisted double back in her first pass. She completed the routine, scoring a 9.925 to finish the day with four 9.900s.
Securing the all-around title and a season-best score, Brooks continues to show why she can lead this Michigan team to make this a banner year.
“I don’t need to put pressure on her to be better,” Plocki said. “I need to make sure that she’s not overtaxing herself, so she doesn’t hit a wall somewhere.”
For Brooks and Plocki, it’s all gas and no brakes. And when her foot is on the pedal, Brooks’ all-around performance is just what the Wolverines need to get their Big Ten season back on track.
And who better to do it than someone like Brooks?
“She’s just an amazingly talented athlete and an amazing young woman,” Plocki said.