Michigan posts season-high on the road, places second at Oklahoma

By Glenn Miller Jr., Daily Sports Writer
Published February 26, 2012

The Michigan women’s gymnastics team made a statement on Friday night.

Despite back-to-back meets against the nation’s top two teams — No. 1 Utah and No. 2 Oklahoma — the Wolverines posted a season-high score at Oklahoma and proved their spot amongst the elite.

No. 21 Michigan, led by another all-around title from sophomore Joanna Sampson, took second place in Friday evening’s tri-meet at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Okla. The Wolverines' score (196.300) was topped only by the Sooners (197.225), and was followed by Texas Woman’s University (194.650) in third place.

By virtue of being the road team, Michigan (7-3) commenced its night on the uneven bars. Yet another stellar performance from freshman Sachi Sugiyama paved the way for the Wolverines. Sugiyama’s 9.825 was followed by a trio of 9.800 scores from freshman Annette Miele, junior Brittnee Martinez and Sampson. Michigan counted a 9.750 from sophomore Shelby Gies to bring the uneven bars score to a total of 48.975 through the first rotation.

“We did well on bars, but we're a great bar team, so we need to be great on bars,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki on Friday. “We didn't break a 49.000 on bars tonight. It's just because of miscast handstands and dismounts we didn't stick. The difficulty and the routines are there. We just have to stick the little things.”

The Wolverines have been focused at practice lately on improving their beam routine, and it appeared to pay off this week, as the team didn’t count a single fall for the event. Martinez and Zurales led Michigan with a pair of 9.800s, while Sampson (9.775) and Gies (9.700) followed closely behind. Sugiyama brought up the tail end of the lineup with a 9.675, giving the Wolverines their second-highest beam score of the season (48.750).

“We still have a lot of room for improvement. We did well, but still not as well as I see them do in practice every day,” Plocki said. “It’s definitely a big step in the right direction, but we still need to get more confident on (beam).”

With momentum on their side, the Wolverines continued their success on the floor rotation. By scoring five routines of 9.800 or higher, Michigan recorded its second-best finish of the season for the event. Sophomore Reema Zakharia, who didn’t compete for the Wolverines last week on floor, rebounded on the road with a 9.875 to lead her team. Sugiyama and Sampson contributed with dual 9.850 scores, and sophomore Stephanie Colbert posted a season-high 9.800.

“Our energy was doing great, we were pumped,” said Sugiyama. “It helped that we had some Michigan fans there. Some of my teammates from my gym came up from Texas, so that really helped me have a good time.”

Michigan looked to cap their impressive night on vault, which has been its best event all season. A trio of Wolverines — Sampson, Zurales, and Sugiyama — scored 9.900 or higher on the event. Sampson’s 9.950 was not only an event-winner, but it also set a new career-high. A pair of 9.825s from Martinez and Colbert closed the night for Michigan, and led to its best score of the season on vault (49.400).

“I'm very pleased,” Plocki said. “Stephanie Colbert, in particular, really stepped up in this meet. She struggled in the first half of the season, but was much improved tonight. She's getting better. We're getting confidence on vault that we can stick our landings, and that's what we need to continue to do.”

For the second week in a row, Sampson won the all-around crown posting a career-best 39.375. Sugiyama finished second in the all-around with a 39.250, also a career-best. Miele, who competed in the all-around for the first time in her collegiate career, finished the night with a 38.675 and Zurales followed with a 38.500.

“I think we came here with a purpose,” Sugiyama said. “We wanted to do it for Michigan. We deserved a good score tonight. We're capable of getting these kinds of scores, and going even higher. We were pumped and ready to go.”

Even though the Wolverines were unable to edge out Oklahoma, their final score was much more significant as it represented the growth of such a young squad. But Plocki knows her team can still do better.

“We did what we needed to do,” Plocki said. “We hit all of our routines, and didn't count any falls in the competition. What I was most pleased about was how we got better as the meet went on, and how we finished. The thing that is most encouraging is that we scored a 196.300, but we had a lot of deductions — wobbles on beam, misplaced handstands, dismounts. We do those things every day.

“When we hit a meet, we can be in the mid 196.000s, and if we hit all four events like we are capable of, we can go 197.000 or higher.”