Both Michigan and Ohio State experienced setbacks on the uneven bars. The difference came in the way the two squads responded.
For the Wolverines, junior Abby Heiskell barely missed the bar on her way down from an aerial off the high bar and fell onto the mat. Her teammates picked her up and finished the bars with three straight 9.9-plus scores to close out the event, punctuated by junior Natalie Wojcik’s emphatic fist as she pumped it in victory upon landing her own 9.925 routine.
Ohio State, meanwhile, couldn’t muster a similar response. It couldn’t match the firepower of the Wolverines on either of the first two events, or indeed in the entire meet, as Michigan (1-0) surpassed Ohio State (0-1), 197.225-196.000, on Saturday.
“On any event, you have to be able to recover from a mistake, and I thought on both bars and beam the team did a great job of not allowing one mistake to affect their performance when they came after,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “I would not expect perfection on the first meet out so I’m not upset that we had a mistake, but we learned from it.”
Raina Malas’s early mistake on the uneven bars didn’t spell doom for the Buckeyes in and of itself, but it did take away options on their path to victory. Options that were few to begin with.
At the halfway point in the meet, Michigan held a 0.775 point lead over its rival, thanks in large part to that strong committee on bars. Junior Abby Brenner had her highest-scoring bar routine since 2019, notching a 9.900.
Fellow junior Maddie Mariani also matched a career-best score with 9.900 on beam with a routine that made her appear glued to the beam, tying with junior Natalie Wojcik for a team-high.
“(Mariani) was remarkable on beam, and that’s what she’s capable of,” Plocki said. “She’s becoming more experienced in learning how to handle her nerves under pressure and do that routine like she does in front of us every day in practice.”
The remaining options for Ohio State to notch a comeback were dashed by the anchors of Michigan’s roster. Sophomores Gabby Wilson and Sierra Brooks, coupled with Wojcik, were on point throughout the meet. As the only three gymnasts to compete in all four events for either team, seven of their 12 performances surpassed the 9.900 mark, while only once did the Buckeyes’ entire squad have a routine reach it.
“That’s what it’s all about, it’s having those athletes that are rock solid and they can do it week in and week-out,” Plocki said. “Regardless of what happened before them, they can go out there when the lights turn on and perform.”
Sprinkled throughout the meet were moments of exaltation. Wojcik’s triumphant fist bump on bars was accompanied by Brenner’s shout of victory following her floor routine. The energy built from the very first run on vault and ended in a victorious applause at the end of Wojcik’s clinical floor routine.
At the end of the night, six of the top seven routines on vault were by Michigan athletes, leading to a 49.300 score. Five of the top six routines on bars led to 49.400. Six of the top eight routines on floor led to 49.450. Only on beam did the Wolverines fall behind the Buckeyes: Its 49.075 score lost to 49.100.
Michigan’s meet on Saturday was an exhibition in excellence. From its start on vault, the team clad in blue came out prepared and determined, snatched a lead and never gave it back. And though they didn’t lack mistakes, the Wolverines overcame them in a way its opponent couldn’t: Through depth, through inspired routines and through emphatic determination.