Olivia Karas opened her floor exercise, the penultimate of the meet, with a double Arabian.
The difficult tumbling pass consists of a half-twist into two front flips. Karas nailed it.
The junior finished her routine with as much spirit as she began. The crowd began chanting her name.
A few minutes later, the score was official. The No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team didn’t even need the final floor score from junior Emma McLean to pull off the upset against No. 4 Alabama, 196.2 to 195.675.
The meet wasn’t always pretty. Both teams suffered their fair share of mistakes, but what set the Wolverines apart was their ability to recover.
In the first rotation, freshman Syd Townsend put her hands down on her Yurchenko one-and-a-half vault, but in the second rotation, she bounced back with a 9.85 on bars, complete with a stuck dismount.
“I talked to her and I said, ‘One of the biggest things we’ve gotta be able to do is let the past be in the past,’ and she went out there and rocked a bar routine,” Plocki said. “That’s an incredible thing for her to learn as a young freshman.”
Even for the older gymnasts, facing a top-ranked team was an exercise in controlling their nerves.
“It’s good practice for meets later on and dealing with pressure and pressure situations,” Karas said. “Sometimes, if you have a lot of adrenaline and energy … you have to minimize it to the best of your abilities.”
On the balance beam — often the most harrowing event — Michigan was unfazed. Senior Lauren Marinez earned a 9.875 with her steady acrobatics, difficult jump connections and stuck double-twisting dismount.
Entering the final rotation, the floor exercise, the Wolverines held the slightest of leads over Alabama, which had yet to go on beam. Michigan knew it needed big performances.
The Wolverines got off to a shaky start. Although nobody fell, the first three competitors had several landing deductions, and none earned above a 9.7.
But the true character of the team showed not in its mistakes on floor, but how it reacted.
“We were under so much pressure, we could have easily caved,” Plocki said. “Those last three floor routines could have had mistakes, and it could have been different.”
Indeed, in the end, the meet came down to performance under pressure. After a fall on the beam early in the rotation, the Crimson Tide were unable to recover as their final performer put her hands down on a skill. Only able to drop one score on the event, Alabama was forced to count a fall.
That’s not what happened for Michigan.
Its last three routines were nearly flawless. Senior Brianna Brown earned a 9.8 with her energetic routine. Karas earned a 9.925. And though the Wolverines would have won without her score, McLean didn’t let up, garnering a 9.9.
“It was a little not what we wanted in the beginning,” Karas said. “I’m pretty proud of the last three of us who went on floor.”
After Karas finished her triumphant routine, she saluted the judges. The crowd went wild.
The final scores flashed on the screen. Then, it was clear. Michigan may have lacked some of the big names and flashy skills of the Crimson Tide, but it showcased something better — the ability to hit when it counted.