It’s been 346 days since the Michigan women’s gymnastics team made history by winning its first national championship. Now, the goal is to replicate that performance.
After a 23-1 season capped off with a Big Ten Championship — a feat that the team fell short of in their 2021 National Championship campaign — the only thing standing between the Wolverines and a shot at repeating is the NCAA Regionals in Raleigh, N.C.
Coming off a historic Big Ten Championship performance in which Michigan scored the first-ever 198 in the event’s history, the Wolverines are in the position they want to be in.
On Thursday, that will be put to the test against No. 14 UCLA, Maryland and North Carolina. And if Michigan can place in the top two of that session, it will advance to the Regional Finals on Saturday.
Wolverines to watch
Led by the tri-captaincy of seniors Abby Brenner and Abby Heiskell and junior Sierra Brooks, the women’s gymnastics team wants success at both the individual and team level.
Heiskell is coming off her best performance of the season. Her 39.700 score in the Big Ten Championship earned her the all-around title, and if she can carry that — in addition to her innate leadership — into the regionals, she can lead her team to success.
In last year’s regional, Heiskell earned her career-best score of 9.950 on the uneven bars and her first floor title. She will try to build on that performance in the final regional of her collegiate career.
Brooks displayed her impact in the Big Ten Championship where she earned a 10.0 on vault — the only perfect score of the competition. And Brooks is no stranger to high pressure situations.
In addition to her recent standout performance, Brooks led Michigan in the 2021 regionals with a 39.650 all-around score, finishing second in the all-around title and leading her team to the top spot in the regional championships.
Brooks has repeatedly stepped up, and if she can continue the trend while instilling her strong leadership, the Wolverines will be in a good position.
Senior Natalie Wojcik will go down as one of the greatest gymnasts in Michigan program history. Tied for the Wolverines all around record of 39.825, Wojcik has stepped up for her team on numerous occasions. She’ll play a key role in the Wolverines’ success in Raleigh.
While Michigan has shown high-level talent throughout the season, UCLA has been anything but consistent. The Bruins, who have significant talent, will hope to put it all together and pull out a good performance.
Chae Campbell has been a spark for the Bruins, especially in March. In the past month she has recorded four perfect scores — two on floor and two on vault. Going into Regionals, Campbell is poised to excel at both an individual and team level.
Led by Ana Padurariu, UCLA’s strongest event this season has been the balance beam. Seven Bruins have recorded scores of 9.900 or higher this season, amounting to an average team score of 49.265.
The beam — which is not the Wolverines’ strongest event — is a place where UCLA could emerge successful. Conversely, the Bruins have struggled on bars this season collectively, consistently stuggling to surpass the 49.000 benchmark.
On the other hand, Maryland has found success on bars, which has proven to be the difference maker in multiple meets for the Terrapins.
After finishing sixth in the Big Ten Championship, the Terrapins look to use that to advance to the National meet.
Michigan will start the regional semifinal on the floor exercise, an event that the Wolverines have excelled in all season.
In 2021, the Wolverines finished with the highest score on floor — 49.625 — in their regional. They’ll look to do the same this regional, but this time they want to earn an individual floor title that eluded them last year.
Heiskell, who won a share of the floor title in the Big Ten Championship, has the momentum to pull it off in the final campaign of her career.
Heading into Thursday’s semifinal, Michigan is ranked first in the NCAA for vault. The balanced lineup from the Wolverines — and Brooks’ 10.0 score — contributed to the highest vault score at the Big Ten Championship.
Michigan will try to build on that success in the coming week. However, consistency is something this team has struggled on vault. In addition to some excellent performances, the Wolverines have displayed weakness as well.
In early February, Michigan scored a 49.875 on vault, thanks to four consecutive perfect scores from sophomore Reyna Guggino, Wojcik, Heiskell and Morrison. Three weeks later, the same team produced a score of 48.375, the lowest score by the Wolverines in any event this season.
Michigan has shown its ability to produce both extremes. If it can duplicate last week’s performance at the Big Ten Championship, it will find itself in a good position.
Wojcik has been a source of consistency for the Wolverines, especially on the uneven bars. Only once did she score below 9.900 in the event in the regular season, displaying her experience and talent.
However, at the Big Ten Championships, Wojcik produced an uncharacteristic routine. An unfortunate fall led to the anomalous 9.025 score by the senior gymnast.
Wojcik has proven what she is capable of on the bars all season, but following her worst performance, it’s unclear what to expect from her on Thursday.
On the other hand, Heiskell matched her season high score in last weeks action with a 9.950 score. Heiskell hopes to prove that last weeks performance was not an anomoly, while Wojcik wants to prove the opposite.
The weakest part of Michigan’s resumé is the beam; however, the Wolverines are still ranked 11th nationally in the event.
In their last meet, though, there was nothing weak about their beam performance. Led by Wojcik’s 9.950, they recorded the highest team score with 49.375 points.
As the last event, Michigan’s performance on the vault will likely have a large impact on the final outcome.
The Wolverines are in the position that they want to be in. Facing two schools that have struggled to show consistency in 2022, Michigan’s dependable lineup has a significant advantage.
Coming off a Big Ten Championship victory — one of the strongest performances from the Wolverines this season — Michigan hopes to build on that success.
And if it can do that, there’s not much that can stand in its way of repeating as national champions.