You can’t make mistakes in a meet like the Big Five. Unfortunately for the Michigan women’s gymnastics team, that’s exactly what it did.
With competition from teams like No. 19 Minnesota, No. 18 Iowa, Penn State and Rutgers, small mistakes can lead to big consequences. The 6th-ranked Wolverines learned that lesson the hard way.
Initially favored to place high, Michigan went into the meet hoping to walk away with a Big Ten regular-season title, or at the very least, a chance to compete in the evening session of the Big Ten Championships. Even after last week’s mishaps on beam, the Wolverines had a fresh start and were still in good position to take first-place honors. Instead, they were met with intense competition and battled it with mediocre confidence.
A final score of 196.875 put Michigan in third place, eliminating its chance at the Big Ten regular-season title. The Wolverines barely scraped by Iowa’s score of 196.650 to earn a spot at the evening session for the Big Ten Tournament next week, mostly because of their poor performance on the beam — again.
Last week against Utah, Michigan had two falls on beam, one from sophomore Lauren Marinez and another from junior Talia Chiarelli. This week, it was Chiarelli and junior Nicole Artz who struggled during the event.
Artz had a solid routine on beam, but botched the dismount and ended with a 9.450. During her landing, she strained a ligament in her ankle and was scratched from the floor after Michigan had already secured third place.
Chiarelli had another complete fall off of the beam during her routine, mirroring her mishap at the Utah meet. She ended with a 9.275.
“(Chiarelli) had a fall again today, and we’ve got to try to figure out what has changed,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “For somebody who has been so incredibly consistent for so long, and then to have breaks two weeks in a row — it’s not a physical problem. We just have to get her confidence level back and get her back on track.”
With one of the top Wolverines injured and the other lacking confidence, someone had to make up for lost points on beam. Freshman Olivia Karas did just that.
Ending the meet with an all-around career-high score of 39.625, Karas took home the gold. And not in only one event, but three. In vault, Karas tied her previous career-best score of 9.950. She was one of three athletes who ended the floor exercise with a 9.925, tying for first there as well.
“Floor is really fun for me because I’m a very ‘out there’ kind of person,” Karas said. “I enjoy going on the floor and giving it my all and doing as much as I can. There’s really no better way to end a meet than to end on floor.”
She also took fifth in both of her other events, tying her career-best on beam with a 9.900 and notching a 9.850 on bars.
Sophomore Brianna Brown was next in line for the Wolverines, taking fourth in the all-around with a 39.375. She had a phenomenal uneven bars performance, and took first in the event with a 9.925.
Despite the strong individual performances by a few Wolverines, they couldn’t manage to make up for their lost momentum after the third rotation.
The beam was Michigan’s shortcoming last week, and nothing has changed this time around.
“Obviously right at this moment, I don’t think anybody is feeling stellar,” Plocki said. “That doesn’t mean that I feel bad, it just means that we need to go back and regroup.
“This is a group of kids I am very proud of. They have worked very hard and are very close. It’s just that, when you haven’t had depth and people’s bodies are sore, and you just go and go and go, you can’t go anymore. What we’ve got to do is figure out how we get a little bit more charge here for these kids going into the final push and do what we need to be able to do.”
Michigan is going to have to figure out how to repair what it has lost on beam, because without it, the team won’t get very far in post-season tournaments. The little confidence the Wolverines are harboring isn’t helping them get on the podium either. It seems that the underclassmen have this figured out, but the whole team will have to get on board if they want to even come close to a championship title.