Before the huddle broke off to start the last rotation on Sunday’s Ohio State Quad meet, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team let out a cheer, saying “Puppy time!” as they lifted their hands into the air. The whole team understood what this meant and realized in that moment what was on the line going into bars.
“(To our team), ‘Puppy Time’ represents the 198 score for us because our coach, Bev Plocki, was promised a puppy if we got a 198,” sophomore Nikoletta Koulos said. “So that was in the back of our heads, and we just wanted to do the routines we know how to do, hit our handstands and stick our dismounts, and that’s exactly what we did.”
Using the motivation from the huddle, the Wolverines had their fourth-best bar performance in program history, posting a score of 49.600. The team stuck dismount after dismount, and the first five gymnasts to perform had set the team extremely close to a 198.00 overall score — meaning the team averaged a score of 49.500 on all four events. Junior Natalie Wojcik, the last to mount the bars and the Wolverines’ most accomplished gymnast, needed a score of 9.950 in order to get the team over the mark.
“The moment that I knew we could get a 198 was right when Natalie was mounting the board,” Koulos said. “(Sophomore) Sierra Brooks and I were talking and she said ‘Nat just needs a 9.950 for us to get the 198’. The whole routine, we were just screaming our heads off, hoping that she hit every handstand and counted every tenth, because that’s what it comes down to — every single landing, every single toe point, bent leg, it all matters.”
Wojcik did just that, hitting all her skills from the handstands to the toe points with perfect precision, so the judges had no room for deduction. To top it off, she matched the rest of her teammates with a stuck dismount. When her score came in from the judges, a 9.975, the team exploded.
“It was so exciting,” Wojcik said. “We were all standing there, watching the scoreboard, just hoping it was enough. When the score came up on the screen, everyone just started jumping up and down and screaming, and we were all hugging each other. We were so excited.”
Wojcik’s routine propelled the team to a score of 198.025 to finish out the meet, setting the program record and making it the first time Michigan had scored over 198.000. The Wolverines had been striving for such a score for a long time, but this effort had intensified over the past year.
“A 198 has been our goal since we got a little taste of it last year at Big Fives when we got the 197.95 and then got shut down,” Koulos said. “After that, we were just so hungry and we really have wanted this 198. I know that that’s been the goal for Michigan in the past as well.”
When the team started the meet with a 49.500 on beam, led by freshman Carly Bauman and junior Abby Heiskell’s 9.925’s, the Wolverines knew they had a shot at a 198.000 meet score, so long as they kept consistent through the remaining three events.
“It’s really hard for a lot of teams to start on beam, but we are a beam team, and I think that was helpful for us to get a nice, confident start,” Koulos said.
As the Wolverines moved to floor for its second rotation, they had a few small mistakes, and scored a 49.375, which meant they had to make up those points in the last two events. On vault, the team was able to gain a few tenths back that they lost on floor, scoring a 49.550 to keep the team on track for its goal. Brooks, sophomore Gabby Wilson and freshman Naomi Morrison tied for first place in the event for the day with 9.950s. The rest of the team sat close behind.
To clinch a 198.000, Michigan needed at least a 49.575 on bars to finish the day, the team’s highest mark of the season.
“We knew that we just had to make up that little bit that we had undershot on floor exercise, and bars is one of our very best events,” Plocki said. “I think they were just really fired up, and we not only made all of our bar routines, but we had 6 in the lineup and then we had two exhibitions, and we stuck all 8 of those dismounts, which is incredible.”
The incredible performance on bars, as well as the strong performances in the first three events, allowed the Wolverines to accomplish their foremost goal at the moment and, most whimsically, enabled Plocki to finally get the puppy she’d been promised.