Wolverines vault past North Carolina State
Emma McLean sprinted down the runway, propelled herself off the vault, twisted in the air and stuck a flawless landing. A packed Crisler Center erupted with cheers in hopes for a perfect 10 as McLean’s teammates rushed out to congratulate her.
One would have trouble believing she had never attempted that vault before in competition.
The sophomore’s massive Yurchenko 1.5 vault – the final routine of the first rotation – was good for a career-high score of 9.975, and spearheaded the No. 8 Michigan women’s gymnastics team to a 49.275-47.275 lead that it wouldn’t relinquish against North Carolina State. By the end of the night, the Wolverines had tied their best score of the season, defeating the Wolfpack by a score of 197.225-193.225.
“I’ve been training (on the vault) since the fall and just have had trouble with my heel and being sick,” McLean said. “I finally had consistent training days, so I put (the vault) in.”
McLean’s score fell just shy of perfection, but according to Michigan coach Bev Plocki, the routine itself was “about as perfect as they come.”
“We needed five hit vaults before we were going to turn her loose to do a brand new vault,” she said. “And she didn’t just do it, she nailed it.”
Added sophomore Olivia Karas: “It was amazing to see her absolutely kill it out there. She’s going to rock out for the rest of the season, and there should be no second guessing it. That was so awesome, it got the meet rolling, and everyone was super hyped about that.”
Karas had an impressive meet of her own. Competing for just the second time this season in the all-around, she took home the title with a score of 39.375, capped off with an energetic floor routine that tied for second place.
“I don’t find (competing in the all-around) as a pressure situation,” Karas said. “I find it as an honor to be in all four of the lineups, which means I can contribute as much as I can. You get into a weird swing of things, but I try to just think I’m in four lineups as opposed to doing all-around.”
Senior Nicole Artz joined Karas in the all-around, and brought the same consistency and toughness she has all year. Despite battling a cold, she contributed to Michigan’s total with identical scores of 9.850 on the bars, beam and floor exercise.
“Her consistency is amazing,” Plocki said. “She bounced a little bit out of a tumbling pass, but no one is superhuman. She competes through just about anything.”
While the Wolverines didn’t set a season-high for any apparatus Friday night, they swept each rotation in both team and individual scores, bolstered by juniors Paige Zaziski and Lauren Marinez and senior Talia Chiarelli. Zaziski electrified the crowd with a high-flying bars routine, tying her career-high with a 9.950 to claim the victory. Chiarelli took home the beam title with a 9.925, with Marinez right behind her with a 9.900. Marinez in particular had a noteworthy night, competing in floor exercise for the first time in her collegiate career.
And McLean wasn’t just satisfied with her vault performance alone. With a big final pass on floor, she put up a score of 9.900 to win that event as well.
Michigan also saw an impressive showing from its younger performers Friday night. Freshman Lexi Funk competed in three events, highlighting her performance with a second-place finish of 9.875 on floor and tying her career-high of 9.825 on bars. The same event, freshman Polina Shchennikova tied for second alongside Artz with a 9.850.
“I see (the freshmen) maturing and gaining experience,” Plocki said. “I see them being able to go out there and perform at a high level and trust in themselves to be able to do that.”
The Wolverines have now won their last five meets after losses against Utah and Ohio State to open the season. And after two straight away meets, the return to Crisler Center – where the Wolverines have posted their three highest scores of the season – only added to this momentum.
“We love competing at Crisler – it’s electric in here,” McLean said. “Our fans are awesome and it helps us keep our energy up. When we’re on the road we also try to do that ourselves, but it’s a lot easier when we’re at Crisler.”
Michigan will now prepare for the final two home meets of its schedule – meeting with Southern Utah on Feb. 26 and Oklahoma on Mar. 4 – before the Big Five Meet and Big Ten Championships later that month.