Waiting at the end of the runway for her teammates, junior Natalie Wojcik knew her vault needed to be close to perfect to assist in her team’s comeback during their last rotation. Junior Abby Heiskell’s score came in, an almost perfect 9.975, and the judges immediately indicated to Wojcik that they were ready for her to start her vault.
Wojcik, without an extra second to think, saluted the judges, took off down the runway and stuck the vault that looked perfect to everyone who watched. The Michigan gymnasts and coaches on the sidelines quickly threw their hands up in the air with 10 fingers up, predicting the score they hoped would come.
Her perfect vault was confirmed as Wojcik’s score came in, a 10.0, and the team erupted while she broke out in tears. Wojcik’s vault was the only perfect routine of the day at the Big Ten Championships on Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to clinch the title for Michigan gymnastics (17-2).
The team fell just 0.200 short of Minnesota (7-3) at the end of the competition, placing the Wolverines second out of the nine teams competing at the championships. This was the first time the team hadn’t won the meet since 2013.
Michigan competed in the second session of the meet alongside Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois after Rutgers led the first session with a 195.675. Prior to the meet, the Wolverines’ only loss of the season was to Iowa in its Big Five meet and the team had scored consecutive program records in its last two meets. But Michigan knew they would still need to be extremely competitive throughout the meet in order to secure a win.
“When we get to championship season, we anticipate going in that the scores are going to be close,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “We knew that in our evening session, those teams were all closely matched and nobody was going to run away with it. We knew that we were going to have to have four very solid events, and we had three really solid events and one event that we made too many mistakes.”
Michigan started the day with a solid bars rotation, Wojcik leading the team with a 9.925, while Heiskell and sophomore Sierra Brooks also contributed with 9.900’s. Iowa’s floor performance led the rotation with a 49.500, the Wolverines trailing close behind with a 49.450.
On the beam, Michigan kept its second place spot while Minnesota caught up, tying the teams at 98.800 and Iowa still barely ahead with a score of 98.825. Heiskell gave the Wolverines their only 9.900 on the event, while the rest of the team showed consistency.
The close competition led Michigan to floor, where a few mistakes kept the team from the score they needed to win the meet. Freshman Carly Bauman started the rotation off with a 9.875, but minor errors from sophomore Nicoletta Koulos and freshman Naomi Morrison left them with lower scores. Wojcik followed, showcasing a new skill that was added to her routine this meet, but landed short on a connected front tuck and fell back to the ground, which caused Michigan to count both Koulos and Morrison’s scores toward its team score. Gabby Wilson, however, earned a 9.950, winning the floor title for the competition.
“We pride ourselves on having depth, but floor is the event out of the four where … the level of our depth is more shallow,” Plocki said. “When you put people who were originally in the depth positions, you’re going to have a little more inconsistency. I think if we had (junior) Abby Brenner back in our floor lineup, it would make a very big difference.”
The Wolverines needed a season high vault score of 49.875 in the last rotation to make up for their mistakes on floor and come out of the meet with a win, but the team fell short of that, scoring a 49.650. Freshman Reyna Guggino led the rotation with a 9.950, followed by Heiskell with a 9.975 and Wojcik with a 10.000, whose performances made the win look possible. However, a mistake on the table for Wilson and a few extra steps from Brooks left the team sitting in second place as Minnesota clinched the Big Ten Championships title.
“(The vault performance) shows that we’re a tough, gritty team,” Plocki said. “I anticipate that we are going to work very hard these next few weeks to create more consistency in our floor lineup from the top to the bottom, and hopefully this is that exact kind of fuel to our fire that we need going into (NCAA) Regionals and Nationals.”
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