The Rivalry Edition

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If there was a moment the meet could’ve gone off the rails, this was it.

Leading off on beam, junior Lauren Farley bobbled her split jump half. Then, senior Maggie O’Hara balked on her dismount and re-did it, ultimately counting as a fall. After her, freshman Sierra Brooks landed with her knees nearly on the mat on her double tuck dismount. All three scored below a 9.8.

The Michigan women’s gymnastics team had breezed through its first two rotations, building up nearly a one-point lead on Ohio State. But a shaky beam rotation had nearly derailed this team before, and this time, the Wolverines badly needed to finish strong.

Two routines later, sophomore Natalie Wojcik dismounted with a 1.5, stuck it perfectly and pumped both fists in the air. The reigning NCAA beam champion had scored a 9.95 en route to winning the all-around, uneven bars and beam titles. Her performance helped lift No. 8 Michigan (6-0 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) to a 197.35-195.9 win over the Buckeyes (2-3, 1-3) — the Wolverines’ highest score of the season so far.

“(Natalie is) a phenomenal athlete and that’s what I expect out of her quite frankly, week in and week out,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “And that’s what I see in the gym every day and if I don’t see this, I’m more surprised than when I do.”

Before Wojcik, senior Lexi Funk battled through an illness that had kept her from training until Wednesday to begin the Wolverines’ beam comeback. Her triple series and side aerial to full-twisting dismount netted her a 9.9 on her individual senior night.

Wojcik only built on the momentum.

“Even though we are a team, we try not to let whatever happens before or after you affect you,” Wojcik said. “So I try to just reset, know that all I can control is what I did in my turn.”

Coming off a long week — it last competed on Thursday — Michigan’s preparednesss showed. The other three rotations were nearly perfect, with 17 of the Wolverines’ 20 counting scores being above a 9.8.

After a week of working on better landings, Brooks stuck her Yurchenko 1.5 to win the event with a 9.975. Freshman Gabby Wilson and Wojcik shared the bars title with their high-flying skills — Wilson stuck her full-twisting double layout dismount and Wojcik showcased a Deltchev release and stuck double layout.

And once Funk and Wojcik got Michigan back on track on the beam, the Wolverines only carried that momentum into the floor exercise. Four of Michigan’s first five routines scored a 9.9 or above — including Wilson, whose clean and powerful tumbling earned her a 9.95.

In the end, what could’ve been a momentum-killing beam rotation was just a blip on the radar, and the Wolverines earned a win that otherwise looked easy. That, above all else, showed what Michigan is truly capable of.

“We had a couple small stumbles on beam,” Plocki said. “So on one hand, I’m so proud of the way we finished beam and the way we came over and competed floor, that’s the sign of a really, really strong team. But then you look at the score we got as our highest score and any coach is gonna go, ‘Yeah, we could have been three or four tenths higher if we had hit those other two beam routines the way we are capable of.’ But that’s where, still, our room for growth is.

“ … We’ve gotta believe in that and if we do that, we can compete with any team in the country.”

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