Wolverines snag 22nd Big Ten Championship
Just before junior Nicole Artz took her spot on the floor for her final routine of the night, the news broke. Michigan had already scored enough points to win the Big Ten Championship. Behind Artz on the sidelines, the entire team and staff were celebrating their third consecutive title. Even without finishing their rotation, the Wolverines had claimed their place at the top once again.
Last week, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team walked away as the team that barely scraped up enough points for a third-place finish at the Big Five Tournament. This week, the Wolverines walked away as Big Ten champions.
The title marks the 22nd Big Ten Championship for the team, the most in conference history. And out of those 22 titles, 21 have been under the instruction of Michigan coach Bev Plocki.
“I’m so happy and proud of this team,” Plocki said. “There’s been a lot going on this year, and I’m sure everyone on the outside knows that anyone who wins a championship has worked very hard. But unless you know all the ins and outs of what’s gone on, you really can’t appreciate what these ladies have been through and how hard they’ve worked to be able to do what they did tonight.”
It has been an uphill battle for the Wolverines. After peaking midseason, they have struggled in the past few weeks, lacking confidence and missing out on a tremendous amount of points on the beam due to errors.
This meet, the beam presented a make-or-break situation. And while Michigan’s scores weren’t what they had been earlier in the season, they were good enough to keep the team in the running. Junior Talia Chiarelli — who had falls on beam two weeks in a row — executed a solid routine and ended with a 9.850. Senior Lindsay Williams, despite a long waiting period before her routine, scored a 9.875 — the second-highest Wolverine score in the event and tying for fifth overall. Despite the solid performances from her teammates, the individual Big Ten title for beam went to Artz, who snagged a 9.925.
After the first four rounds, the competition boiled down to Michigan and host school Nebraska. With the 12th-ranked Cornhuskers completing all four rotations and ending with a 196.900 and Michigan sitting with a bye before their final rotation on floor, things were looking optimistic for the Wolverines.
Especially because Michigan is ranked second on floor.
“We just said to ourselves, ‘Let’s go out and win a Big Ten Championship’,” said Artz. “There’s nothing else to it. We’re the No. 2-ranked team in the country, and we went out there and proved that. We had confidence.”
The floor started with sophomore Nichelle Christopherson, who set the pace with a career-high 9.875. Following suit were Williams, sophomore Brianna Brown and freshman Olivia Karas, who each contributed a 9.850. It was Chiarelli, however, who clinched the win with a 9.900, sending the team into celebration.
Artz served as the anchor, and didn’t fail to deliver — she matched her career-high with a 9.975, enough to walk away with another individual Big Ten title on floor. Brown joined her with a tie for the individual title on the uneven bars after scoring 9.950.
Michigan’s final tally of 197.125 secured the win. With no falls on beam and enough confidence to last all four events, the Wolverines finally pulled everything together at just the right moment. Artz, Brown and Karas were named to the All-Big Ten Championship team.
But it was the athletes who didn’t receive individual titles that put Michigan over the top for the title.
Senior Austin Sheppard lost her balance on a handstand during the uneven bars, and had to improvise a section mid-routine to gain back lost momentum and avoid hitting the floor. Despite the bobble, she still walked away with a 9.700. Sophomore Lauren Marinez had a bobble on the beam, but she managed to stay on and ended with a 9.725. These little mistakes could have been detrimental to the team, but the perseverance of the Wolverines pushed them through.
“The fact that we had six first-team All-Big Ten athletes is a testament to the fact that it’s not just Nicole and Olivia carrying the team, it’s the entire team doing the work,” said Plocki. “Everybody gives all the props to the kids that are winning, but it’s the team that has the kids filling in spots in the lineup that’s working. Those are the kids that put you over the top to win a championship.”