Michigan’s season ends in heartbreaking fashion at NCAA semifinals

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By Cindy Yu, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 19, 2015

Less than two-tenths of a point separated the Michigan women’s gymnastics team from securing a spot on the floor at Saturday’s Super Six.

Though the Wolverines came up just a hair short of qualifying among the top three teams in the first NCAA semifinal session Friday, they still have much to be satisfied with. Not only did they close out the season as the only team in the nation to score at least 49.000 in all 52 rotations, but they also counted zero falls in competition.

“I think everyone did their jobs like they were supposed to, which ended up not being enough to make it to the next day," said sophomore Talia Chiarelli. “We’re still really happy with how we performed.”

Sophomore Nicole Artz was named a first-team All-American in the all-around with a score of 39.425, and freshman Brianna Brown was awarded second-team honors with her 39.325 total. The team put up the second-highest team total in program history at the NCAA Championships.

At the Fort Worth Convention Center in Fort Worth, Texas, No. 6 Michigan (27-6 overall) scored 197.025 to place fourth among six teams. No. 2 Florida and No. 3 Utah tied for first in the qualifying round with scores of 197.475, while No. 11 Stanford rounded out the top three with a total of 197.175. No. 10 Georgia and No. 7 UCLA finished in fifth and sixth with scores of 196.600 and 196.400, respectively.

For the third consecutive year, Michigan drew the same rotation order at the NCAA Championships.

“Our biggest obstacle was having to end on a bye,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “Hopefully things come in three, and we’re done with that.”

The Wolverines started the meet on the uneven bars. Though the entire lineup performed well, with each gymnast recording at least a score of 9.800 and a few even sticking their dismounts, leading off on that particular event may have been to the team’s disadvantage.

“Typically, the judges will start out a little conservatively and then loosen up, so I think that it really hurt us,” Plocki said. “We had a great bar rotation, but as the meet went on, it seemed like things loosened up over there, and other teams were able to take advantage of that.”

Among all six teams, Michigan had the lowest total on bars with a 49.225.

On the balance beam, the Wolverines matched their program record of 49.250 for the highest total on the event at an NCAA Championships. Artz and Chiarelli led the squad in the anchor positions with wobble-free routines that each scored tallies of 9.900. Both gymnasts qualified to Sunday’s event finals and were named NCAA All-Americans on beam.

While their scores ranked among the highest in the session, it was challenging to pinpoint what the judges took off in Chiarelli’s set.

“I have no idea where they came up with a tenth of a deduction because (Chiarelli) did not have an eyelash out of place in the routine and she stuck her dismount,” Plocki said. “She does a round-off double back, which is a more difficult dismount than most people do.”

Following beam, Michigan was on a bye during the third rotation. At the halfway mark, it was nearly anyone’s game. Less than a point separated the top team from the bottom one, and less than half a point separated the top five teams, which included the Wolverines.

Michigan then moved to the floor exercise, where it totaled a 49.375, its highest score of the night. Moreover, the team’s event total was also good enough to match the Gators for the top floor score of the session. Chiarelli once again led the team with her explosive routine that scored a 9.925 and earned her a second NCAA All-American honor. Joining her in event finals was senior Sachi Sugiyama, who scored a 9.900 in her final team floor performance of her career.

The Wolverines finished the day strong on vault. Chiarelli, Brown and senior Brooke Parker stuck their Yurchenko fulls. Chiarelli performed the best vault in the lineup, scoring 9.875. After she stuck her vault cold, she immediately sprinted off the podium and was welcomed by high fives from all of her teammates.

“That was actually the first vault I’ve stuck all season,” Chiarelli said.

Though the vault gave Plocki chills, the score may not have warranted its merit.

“Her vault was the best I’ve ever seen her do, and actually, there was a good part of the audience that was kind of booing when they put up the 9.875,” Plocki said. “Nevertheless, she had the meet of her life.”

During the event finals, Chiarelli, Sugiyama and Artz represented the Maize and Blue well. On floor, Chiarelli and Sugiyama tied for seventh with identical scores of 9.900. Both gymnasts showed off explosive tumbling sets and expressive dance choreography.

Sugiyama closed out her season in fashion. The Texas native performed the last routine of her collegiate career before a hometown crowd.

“I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the whole routine,” Sugiyama said.

Added Plocki: “To peak this year as a senior and to be able to conclude her career here in her home state with a lot of her family, friends and former club teammates supporting her is a pretty special way to go out.”

On beam, Chiarelli finished eighth with a score of 9.825. and Artz finished 12th with an impressively improvised routine that scored 9.8125.

“My heart breaks for these kids, the work they put in and everything to not be able to compete at Super Six,” Plocki said. “I think that our gymnastics should’ve been on the floor then, but I’m certainly not disappointed in any way, shape or form with any of these young ladies or their efforts.

“I couldn’t be more proud of everything they’ve done and accomplished this season.”

While success may be measured in wins, losses and championships, the personal development of the Wolverines this season has been tremendous. After graduating six seniors from last year’s team, many expected Michigan to have a rebuilding season this year. But in the end, it proved it belonged among the rest.

With Artz, Chiarelli and the majority of their teammates returning next season, as well as a strong incoming freshman class joining the team, the Wolverines can only improve.