Depth and team chemistry aid gymnastics in win

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Chloe Aubuchon, Daily Sports Writer
Published January 26, 2014

Floor music and chalk filled the air in Crisler Center on Saturday as the No. 5 Michigan women’s gymnastics team warmed up for its first home meet of the season against No. 23 Ohio State.

When the music faded and competition began, senior Joanna Sampson won her third consecutive all-around, leading the Wolverines to a dominant 197.325-195.200 win over the Buckeyes. Sampson also took first place on floor exercise (9.950) and tied freshman teammate Nicole Artz for first on the uneven bars (9.875).

The Wolverines bested the Buckeyes in all four events, including the balance beam, where they took the top four spots and earned their highest beam score in 17 meets (49.250). Senior Reema Zakharia remained steady on the beam and, to her delight, stuck her dismount to earn a score of 9.900 and a tie for first place with senior Shelby Gies.

The Wolverines dominated on the floor exercise, taking the top six spots. Sampson closed out the meet with a stellar routine on the floor, nailing each of her tumbling passes. Her score of 9.950 secured her first-place finish, followed by Zakharia and Artz, who scored a 9.925 and a 9.900, respectively.

Michigan also impressed on the uneven bars, where Sampson, Artz and senior Natalie Beilstein tied for first place with scores of 9.875. All six Michigan gymnasts in the rotation for bars scored a 9.825 or above.

Sampson and junior Sachi Sugiyama took second place on the vault with scores of 9.875 despite small steps on the landing for both gymnasts. Sophomore Austin Sheppard’s height and solid landing on her Yurchenko full — a round-off onto the springboard followed by a back handspring onto the vaulting table and full twist — closed out the vault rotation with a winning score of 9.900.

The vault extraordinaire is looking to expand her event repertoire as she works towards becoming an all-around competitor. Her sixth-place finish on the uneven bars brought her closer to that goal.

One of Sheppard’s biggest challenges on the way to all-around competition will be gaining confidence on the balance beam. In her exhibition routine, Sheppard fell while attempting her mount and continued to struggle with balance throughout the routine.

“It’s been a while since I’ve done beam,” Sheppard said. “I got a little bit nervous and had two falls, but it was good to get the experience and get out there and feel the live crowd and all the distractions.”

Despite Saturday’s performance, Michigan coach Bev Plocki sees Sheppard’s potential as an all-around gymnast as she continues to practice and become more comfortable with beam competition.

“I absolutely see Austin making strides toward the all-around,” Plocki said. “During warm-up, you can see that the talent is really there. It’s one thing to be able to do the routine in practice, but it’s another thing to be able to do it in competition under pressure.”

The meet, with exhibition routines on all events, also showcased the depth of the Wolverines’ roster. Junior Brooke Parker impressed in her exhibition routines on both vault and floor, while sophomore Lindsay Williams had a strong showing on the uneven bars.

Another key component of the Wolverines’ success was their young talent. Freshmen Talia Chiarelli and Artz both impressed in their first collegiate home meet.

Artz competed in the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor exercise, tying for first place on the bars and taking third on the floor. It was her second first place finish of the season and her first since finishing top on the balance beam in her collegiate debut against Iowa State.

“Coming into college, bars was not my best event,” Artz said. “(Assistant coach Scott Sherman) has really done miracles. It’s really fun and exciting to keep getting better as each week goes on.”

Both Artz and Plocki cited support, respect and chemistry as important factors to the team’s success. And with plenty of depth on the team, there’s still room for improvement.