Freshmen step up in Ohio State win
All athletes dream of rivalry wins and upsets.
The freshmen on the Michigan women’s gymnastics team have had one of each — in just two meets.
Better yet, two freshmen — Lauren Farley and Syd Townsend — played integral roles in both those wins. And they still have potential for improvement.
Though both suffered falls last week against then-No. 4 Alabama, their performances in Saturday’s meet against Ohio State showed no hints of their first-meet struggles. And both were major contributors to the Wolverines’ final score of 197.55 — the highest in the nation so far.
Both Townsend and Farley earned spots in the starting lineups on two different events against the Buckeyes. Townsend competed on vault and bars while Farley performed on bars and beam.
And Sam Javanbakht — a freshman who has yet to make her collegiate debut — contributed in a different way, making sure the team kept up its energy and focus.
“Everyone’s stepping up, all the freshmen,” said junior Emma McLean. “Even if people aren’t competing, they’re stepping up and they’re cheering and they’re contributing … it’s gonna take us far.”
For Townsend, a former Canadian national team member, the team-focused environment of the NCAA is a stark contrast to her previous experiences.
“In Canada, we were part of a team, but everyone kinda individually wanted what was best for themselves,” Townsend said. “Here, everyone genuinely wants you to do well and wants you to succeed because it would benefit the team.”
Michigan’s camaraderie helped Townsend bounce back from a fall on vault last week. This week, she earned a 9.925, the second-highest vault score of the meet.
“Knowing that they actually do have my back and they can pull out the score if I mess up … was awesome,” Townsend said.
Despite leading off on the uneven bars — a position in the lineup that often garners lower scores — Townsend received the highest score on the event with a 9.90. Farley’s score wasn’t far behind with a steady set.
But where she really had the chance to shine was on beam. She showcased a unique beam routine featuring a back-handspring-layout-stepout-layout-stepout flight series and a Gainer pike dismount.
“That beam routine was great,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “This is her first time in the bar lineup, she rocked it, and she’s right there in the mix on floor as well, so really proud.”
And though floor was the only rotation that didn’t feature any freshmen Saturday night, that could change soon.
After scoring had concluded, Townsend performed an exhibition routine on the floor exercise. It was a test run of sorts, a chance to practice in front of the crowd and see how she would be scored by real judges, but without the pressure of having her score count.
Townsend’s score of 9.80 showed an ability to hang with the team’s veterans — no easy task on the Wolverines’ historically-strongest event.
“We were contemplating putting her in the lineup,” Plocki said. “(But) in order to earn your way, you have to exhibition first.”
Last season, Michigan lost two of its strongest floor workers in Talia Chiarelli and Nicole Artz, leaving big shoes to fill. So while Townsend’s floor is currently a depth option, it has the potential to become much more than that.
“She’s one that still has a lot left in the tank,” Plocki said. “We have a lot I think we can still improve upon with her.”
In a sport like gymnastics, it’s often hard to know how much the freshmen will contribute. But as their two big wins demonstrated, the Wolverines don’t have much to worry about.