After the first rotation of the NCAA Regionals, the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team was in first place and had just notched its highest score of the season on vault. 

But its next event, bars, proved to be a bigger challenge than anticipated. 

Many of the gymnasts seemed to struggle with their handstands, nearly falling out of the handstand the wrong way. Neither freshmen Abby Heiskell nor Maddie Mariani could break past a 9.800, and the team already looked shaky. 

So when freshman Abby Brenner bent on her handstand and swung the wrong way, she was forced to let go of the bar, collect herself and resume. While the fall didn’t end up counting towards Michigan’s score — the lowest score is dropped — it put more pressure on the gymnasts to follow knowing every mistake counts. 

Brenner ended up scoring a 9.250, a score that would have been detrimental to the Wolverines had it counted. 

The Wolverines needed a clean routine to shake off the nerves, and that’s what senior Olivia Karas provided. While she didn’t hit all her lines, she landed with a clean stick — good for a 9.900. 

Rounding out the event was freshman Natalie Wojcik and sophomore Lauren Farley, and while both routines were clean, there seemed to be some nerves coming from the Wolverines, and their scores reflected that. The gymnasts scored a 9.825 and 9.800, respectively, both scores relatively low for them. 

Michigan finished the rotation with 49.050, its lowest score of the weekend. 

While the score wasn’t disastrous for the Wolverines, they ended the day in second place. They advanced to the regional finals, which meant they would start Saturday’s competition on bars. 

“There are so many things that factor into higher or lowing scoring,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “Different judging panels can be tighter or looser, and sometimes it’s not even about what your performance is. We didn’t get hung up on (Friday) at all. We were excited about this rotation. 

“… I’m certainly not going to say that we deliberately finished second, but I knew that is was a possibility to finish second and we still made that decision because it was all about (Saturday).”

In practice leading up to the event, Plocki and the team made a point to practice sticking landings — specifically on vault. But that’s not to say it can’t transfer to other rotations. They proved the practice had paid off during Friday’s vault rotation where nearly every gymnast stuck her landing. Then it was time to transfer that to bars. 

“It’s definitely nerve-wracking when you’ve had some mistakes and you have to start there,” Karas said on Saturday. “I think we handled it really well. I think we left yesterday in yesterday, and we looked at today with a new mindset. I couldn’t be more excited. I think this team did great.”

It was clear from the beginning that the Wolverines were off to a better start than the day before. Each routine looked cleaner and more confident, and it reflected in the scores. All gymnasts either matched or improved their score from the day before, including Brenner, whose score jumped by 0.575. 

Not all the routines were perfect, and the dismounts will need to be perfected to assure those stuck landings if the team wants a chance at the national title, but just making those small corrections can make a big difference. Michigan finished with 49.200, just 0.150 better than the day before. 

In a competition where only the top two teams advance, Michigan just barely edged out Alabama for second place. The Wolverines managed a 197.275, while the Crimson Tide missed out with a 197.225.  

Had the Wolverines’ bars performance been similar to Friday’s, they may not have punched their ticket to Fort Worth, Texas. So the focus for Michigan will be making the small changes and practicing as usual, because the final result can come down to mere tenths of a point.  

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