An exhibition match is usually one to give the seniors and captains a solid pre-season tune-up. It’s an opportunity to give the freshman a walkthrough at Crisler Center for what’s to come. But they aren’t supposed to be the ones carrying the team. The freshmen are supposed to perform like freshman and the seniors are supposed to perform like seniors. 

But not for the Michigan women’s gymnastics team. 

In an exhibition quad meet on Saturday, the underclassmen, especially freshman Sierra Brooks, propelled the Wolverines to the win. 

Michigan competed against Central Michigan, Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines scored 195.975 points and Central Michigan finished second with a score of 194.500. 

“It’s always an exciting time of the year, but it’s also a difficult time of year,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “This falls at really not the best time of year … but it just happens to be when it is. We still have a month. I guess the good news is we still have a month.”

Competing in her first collegiate meet, Brooks was the all-around champion with a near-perfect score of 39.425. One of only two Michigan gymnasts to compete in all four events, Brooks highlighted her performance with her bar routine, posting a score of 9.925. 

“It’s really exciting,” Brooks said. “I came in, I didn’t try to like have an overall (day), I just tried to do as best I could. I just tried to keep that mentality throughout the meet, and just do the routines that I’ve been doing inside the gym.”

Sophomore Natalie Wojcik placed fourth all-around. She had an impressive floor routine, scoring a 9.900. Wojcik upgraded the difficulty of her routine midway through last season, adding a full-on. She wasn’t able to perfect it last year and it has since been an emphasis in practice. 

As the reigning national champion in the beam event, Wojcik performed strongly in her beam routine her favorite event scoring a 9.875. This was not near her best from last season, but she is working on shaking off the early season rust. 

Because this was an exhibition meet, all teams were allowed to compete with six gymnasts in addition to two exhibition players. Unlike a regular-season meet, regardless of the two exhibition scores the first six gymnasts in the lineup were scored. Plocki capitalized on this opportunity and entered eight gymnasts in each event. 

“We tried to treat it for the most part like a regular meet,” Plocki said. “This is a great dry run for our athletes, for our event staff, for everybody. In a regular meet, we would probably only put our lineup in one exhibition.”

Regardless of the win, like any beginning of the season, the meet was not flawless. 

“As a team, we have been working a lot on landings and just cleaning up any little small thing we can,” Wojcik said. 

The Wolverines started strong in their first rotation on vault. But the pressure of competing in Crisler Center for the first time this season, and for the freshman first time in their careers, slowly set in during the beam and floor events.

“It’s just being able to compete beam in a pressure situation without giving in to some of the negative thoughts that go through your head and being nervous,” Plocki said. “Those routines we will make over and over and over again in the gym.”

The biggest mistakes came during these last two events. Four gymnasts fell off the beam during their routines, all managing to get back on and finish their routine. During the floor event, freshman Nicoletta Koulos fell during her last pass through. Plocki attributed this to Koulos ongoing recovery from several knee injuries.

(We will) be able to get everything ready to go into that first real meet and be able to clean up some of those little mistakes we had today,” Plocki said.

Coming out of this meet, Plocki is confident that, if her team stays healthy, it will have considerable depth and be able to rotate gymnasts in their lineup to keep them fresh and healthy and improve as the season progresses. One might look at Michigan’s season last year and see minimal if any room for improvement. 

But not for the Michigan women’s gymnastics team. 

“There’s always room to improve,” Plocki said. If you are not trying to improve you’re falling behind because everybody else is improving.”

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