By Glenn Miller Jr., For the Daily
Published January 22, 2012
Saturday night’s meet at Minnesota proved that the Michigan women’s gymnastics season will be dominated by two words: youth and health.
After starting the competition tied for first place on uneven bars, freshman Sachi Sugiyama and junior Natalie Beilstein ended the night in remarkably different ways.
Sugiyama, who headlines the youthful Wolverine squad, won the all-around title while helping No. 11 Michigan defeat No. 24 Minnesota, 193.150-193.000. In a meet that was decided by the final rotation, Sugiyama’s performance was key in giving Michigan (2-0) its second win of the season.
“(Sugiyama) showed a lot of grit and determination,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “We’ve identified her as our freshman-to-watch this year, and it looks like we selected the right person.”
Competing as an all-arounder for the first time in her collegiate career, Sugiyama’s impressive night also included a first-place finish on vault with a score of 9.850. Her total score for the all-around was 39.050.
“I thought I did pretty well, I had to hold it together and be strong mentally,” Sugiyama said.
The Wolverines struggled early in the night, recording two falls on uneven bars, which gave Minnesota a slight lead. Sugiyama and sophomore Joanna Sampson led the squad on vault, followed by junior Katie Zurales in third. The Golden Gophers recorded three falls on bars, putting the Wolverines ahead after two events, 97.325-96.525.
“We were trying our hardest and it just wasn’t going our way sometimes,” said Sugiyama.
Michigan’s low point of the night was on floor, where the Wolverines recorded three slip-ups during their routine. More importantly, one of those mistakes resulted in junior Natalie Beilstein being unable to finish the night after she suffered an ankle injury.
Beilstein, who recorded two career highs last week on bars (9.800) and floor (9.925) against Ohio State, is considered one of the Wolverines top gymnasts and a leader of the senior-less squad.
“We are small, and we don't have a lot of depth, so it's an injury we couldn't afford to have happen,” Plocki said.
Michigan held a narrow lead heading into the final rotation and needed a solid performance on beam to seal the victory.
“Balance beam is a tough event to end on. We had struggles there last week, so confidence was already a bit shaky,” Plocki said. “After the floor, I went over and got the kids together and said that we had to do this for us. This was for the block ‘M.’ ”
Zurales, the squad’s final competitor, took home top honors on the beam for the second week in a row and ultimately secured the Wolverines' first road win.
"I just knew I had to hit for my team, and for Michigan. We needed to end the meet with pride, and just had to go out and nail it,” Zurales said.
Despite a victory on the mats, the Wolverines have arguably lost something bigger — their health.
“I would gladly give Minnesota the win if we were able to get Natalie Beilstein back from injury,” Plocki said.
Though details of Beilstein’s injury have not been reported yet, the team will have to prepare for her potential absence.
“We do think it’s a fairly serious ankle injury, so we’ll have to wait and see what the doctors say,” Plocki said.
If the Wolverines were to miss Beilstein this season, they will need to fill her void on floor and vault. The loss would also be a significant blow to the already scant experience of this season’s senior-less team.
“We have a choice to make, we can either feel sorry for ourselves and give up or we can come back and fight harder,” Plocki said. “How we handle this is going to determine what this team is all about.”