After easily defeating No. 25 Ohio State a week ago, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team repeated its dominating performance Saturday against No. 17 Illinois in Champaign.
The third-ranked Wolverines (2-0 Big Ten, 5-0 overall), who fell from their No. 1 national ranking last week, led from the get-go and never relinquished their lead to defeat the Fighting Illini, 196.900-195.150. The victory gave Michigan its first Big Ten road win of the year.
Regardless of whatever event was going on, though, one thing was always notable: The team seemed to be having fun. The gymnasts were cheering each other on, smiling and doing the routines with each other. During the floor routine, even the normally stern judges cracked smiles while watching the Michigan gymnasts.
“This is a fun team, this is a fun group of girls,” Plocki said. “We focus a lot on, the more fun we’re having, the more successful we’re going to be because having fun means you’re relaxed. And if you’re relaxed, you’re going to go out there and do what you’re capable of doing. Typically, if you’re nervous and stressed out, that’s really not a performance-enhancing kind of thing.”
The battle for the all-around title was significantly closer than the meet itself, though with one caveat: It was between two Michigan gymnasts. Freshman Olivia Karas, competing in her home state of Illinois, narrowly edged out junior All-American Nicole Artz, 39.550-39.425, to take home the all-around crown. Sophomore All-American Brianna Brown finished fifth in the all-around standings with a score of 38.975.
Brown, who was Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Year last season, had to fill in for senior Briley Casanova, who had a minor injury, on the vault. Artz also had her shin wrapped due to soreness, though Plocki said the wrapping was there to prevent the soreness from turning into an injury.
Michigan started off the night extremely strong, with sophomore Nichelle Christopherson and senior Lindsay Williams both sticking their landings on the uneven bars. Artz had great extension throughout her routine to tie for first in the event with a 9.900.
The Wolverines continued to set the night’s dominating mood on the vault, where Karas propelled herself to a career-high 9.950. As the Wolverines were competing on the vault, two different Illinois gymnasts fell off the uneven bars, all but spelling doom for the Fighting Illini.
Surprisingly, Michigan’s worst event of the night was on the floor, where it is ranked second in the nation. A strong performance on the beam, though, guaranteed the Wolverines a 47th consecutive win against the Illini — a streak that dates all the way back to 1986.
With Illinois, the next-highest ranked team in the Big Ten after the Wolverines, out of the way, it appears that Michigan is now in the driver’s seat to repeat as Big Ten champions. To Michigan coach Bev Plocki, though, the victory doesn’t change the team’s mindset.
“Our goal from the very beginning of the year — and for several years — has been not only to win the Big Ten, but to win a national championship,” Plocki said. “I really like where we are, and we have made improvements in all four events. It’s just a matter of putting that all together and having all of that show up in the same competition. That’s when we feel like we’ll be really hitting our stride.”