Captains lead Michigan to highest score since 2008

By Simon Kaufman, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 21, 2013

The last time the Michigan women’s gymnastics team put up a score better than 197.350, senior captain Katie Zurales was a junior in high school.

On Saturday, Zurales helped lead the second-ranked Wolverines to a victory over Illinois, 197.350-195.100, at Crisler Center, capturing the all-around title along the way. The team score is the highest the Wolverines have posted since a 197.600 against Georgia on March 7, 2008.

Zurales placed first on the uneven bars and balance beam with scores of 9.925 and 9.875, respectively. She also performed well on the vault, with a score of 9.900, and tallied 9.875 points on the floor exercise, bringing her all-around score to 39.575 — a new career high.

“Katie has just been rock solid,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “This is a kid that probably never thought she’d ever compete the all around again (because of injuries), and so to see her come back and not only do the all around, but do it at this level is pretty fantastic.”

Also contributing to the Wolverines’ success was junior captain Joanna Sampson. Sampson — who won the all around in the team’s previous meet against Nebraska — captured the vault and the floor titles with scores of 9.925 and 9.950, respectively.

While summarizing the team’s performance afterward, Sampson couldn’t help but smile as she caught herself repeating how successful the Wolverines were in each event. But such was the reality on Saturday.

Michigan was ahead from the beginning and never looked back — posting its best mark on the vault so far this season (49.300) and sweeping all three podium spots. Three Wolverine gymnasts tied for third place behind Sampson and Zurales in the vault, proving the depth that Michigan’s lineup has this year.

The Wolverines took the momentum into their next rotation, the uneven bars, where five of Michigan’s six competitors posted scores of 9.800 or better. In contrast, Illinois’ best score from the vault was 9.775. Going into the third event, the Wolverines led 98.625-97.550.

Michigan extended its lead on the balance beam, amassing 49.225 points while Illinois struggled on the floor exercise, managing just 48.300 points. The Wolverines finished the afternoon strong with their best rotation on the floor exercise with three Michigan gymnasts receiving scores of 9.900 or better.

“I’m ecstatic,” Plocki said. “To be able to continue to improve from the first (meet) to the second, now the second to the third, is exciting.”

The team knows big results are expected but doesn’t seem to be letting the pressure catch up to it.

“I think (the pressure of being ranked No. 2) excites us even more, because for all of us on this team this is the first time that we’ve experienced that, and we’re excited to be there and we’re excited to work each week to maintain it,” said Zurales. “We put in so much hard work in the preseason that this is the payoff and this is the fun part.”

Michigan, averaging 196.942 points per meet, is now ranked No. 1 in the nation after defeating Illinois.