- File Photo/Daily
By Glenn Miller Jr., Daily Sports Writer
Published March 4, 2012
In a season riddled by ups and downs, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team has been searching for some measure of consistency. After the 23rd-ranked Wolverines recorded their best finish of the year last week at Oklahoma, they posted yet another strong performance Friday night at No. 11 Penn State.
Michigan finished second at the tri-meet after being edged, 196.000-195.900, by the Nittany Lions. Both teams were followed by unranked North Carolina, who finished the night with an 195.750. Despite the loss, the Wolverines (3-2 Big Ten, 8-4) tallied their second-best performance of the season while significantly improving their regional-qualifying score.
A series of record-setting performances on uneven bars gave Michigan a favorable start to the meet. The team was led by juniors Katie Zurales and Brittnee Martinez, who posted a pair of 9.900 scores to tie for the event title. The freshmen duo of Sachi Sugiyama and Annette Miele added a pair of 9.850s. Sophomore Shelby Gies competed out of the sixth spot in the lineup, scoring a 9.600 to erase an earlier Wolverine fall.
“The rest of the team showed a lot of grit and determination, and I think if that would’ve happened earlier in the season, we would have fallen apart,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “When someone had a miss, the next person went up and hit and picked things back up again. I was really pleased with how that went.”
The team’s momentum continued on the balance beam, where Michigan posted its best performance of the season (49.050). A pair of 9.875s from Miele and Martinez led the Wolverines, and Miele crushed her previous career-best of 9.450. Gies and sophomore Joanna Sampson also contributed with scores of 9.775 and 9.800, respectively. After an uncharacteristic slip-up by Zurales, Sugiyama’s crucial performance as the last competitor in the lineup preserved Michigan’s score for the event. The Wolverines’ score of 98.150 narrowly led both the Tar Heels (97.800) and the Nittany Lions (97.700) after an impressive first half of the meet.
“I just think we’re getting better,” Plocki said. “We’ve been slowly progressing, and I think we’re gaining a little more confidence. We’re competing a little bit more aggressively, and it’s helping our performance.”
Michigan looked to build on its slim lead as it headed into the floor event. Sugiyama, who finished with the team’s all-around title, scored a 9.875. Zurales bounced back with a 9.825, alongside sophomore Stephanie Colbert and Miele, who finished with 9.725 and 9.700, respectively.
Heading into the final rotation, the Wolverines needed a strong finish on vault to maintain their lead. Sugiyama delivered, scoring a team-high 9.900, good for second in the event. Sampson, who tied for fourth on the event, finished with a 9.875, and Zurales scored a 9.850. Contributions from Colbert’s 9.725 and Miele’s 9.700 at the tail end of the lineup helped Michigan earn a 48.975 on vault.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, Penn State’s spectacular finish on floor (49.350) lifted it from third to first. Despite the loss, Michigan’s 195.900 allows them to drop a 193.150 recorded at Minnesota when calculating their regional-qualifying score.
“I think that we really need to keep up all of our energy — in practice and at our meets — because we had a lot of energy tonight, and that definitely helped us improve everything we’ve worked so hard for,” Miele said.
Though Michigan left State College on Friday night with its second-best performance of the season, the team’s delight was dampened by a late ankle injury to Martinez on vault. But the Wolverines are no strangers to overcoming adversity, something they’ve done exceptionally well all season.
“I think that we’re going to be fine,” Miele said. “The injury was a little upsetting, but I think we can still pull it together and finish off the season great. We’re really excited, and we think that we can just do better next week. This is not the end for us, and we just need to go higher and higher.”