Swarms of Illini-orange filled the bleachers next to sophomore Abby Heiskell as she swung between uneven bars. Suspended in the air, she twisted gracefully on the bar. Heiskell set the standard scoring a 9.875, winning her first collegiate event.
As the event went on, the crowd fell quiet as the No. 16 Wolverines (3-0-0 overall, 1-0-0 Big Ten) defeated No. 13 Illinois (4-1-0 overall, 0-1-0 Big Ten), 196.700-195.650, Saturday at Huff Hall.
The meet started off on a high for Michigan. Switching between bars, Heiskell showed focus and dedication throughout. But, it all came down to the finish as she ended with a double backflip and a perfect landing. Her teammates flooded the mat, congratulating Heiskell for the achievement. The Wolverines ended with a 49.225 on uneven bars, and Heiskell was the top scorer.
Next, Michigan rotated to the vault. Freshman Nicoletta Koulos led the order. Making her freshman debut, she scored a 9.775.
“I think Nicoletta Koulos is going to be a young woman who is going to continue to grow into her role in this team,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “She has a lot in the tank. For her first time out on vault floor, I thought she did really well. I expect continued growth.”
Sophomore Natalie Wojcik and freshman Sierra Brooks both followed with scores of 9.850. Freshman Gabby Wilson ended the rotation with a score of 9.875 and finished on top for the second week in a row. Twirling through the air and landing precisely, the Wolverines rushed towards Wilson as the Fighting Illini turned their backs in the midst of Michigan’s domination. The Wolverines’ vault score ended up as a 49.175.
“The events we did really well on we want to try to replicate,” Plocki said. “The events that we needed to improve on we want to improve. We weren’t quite as sharp on vault. We were far better on beam and floor.”
When it came to the floor lineup, Brooks finished with a 9.900 — the highest score of the day. The five other Wolverines performed well enough for them to end with a final score of 49.175. Afterwards, Brooks was at it again, scoring a 9.900 on the beam, while senior Lexi Funk followed with another 9.900. Michigan finished beam with a score of 49.125. With their final round of the meet completed, the Wolverines looked to the scoreboard. They’d earned a final score of 196.700 and gathered arm in arm in celebration.
“We want to have fun,” Plocki said. “We want to lock in. Our focus is on us. We want to continue to improve from one meet to the next.”
During her 30-year career at Michigan, Plocki has won 24 Big Ten titles, holds the record for most Big Ten titles by any coach in any sport and has created a powerhouse at Michigan that attracts the best female gymnasts across the country. Her expectations are only heightened as the years go on. To Plocki, titles are not only an expectation, but a necessity.
“We’ve always had the expectation to win the Big Ten and making it from regionals to nationals,” Plocki said. “The goal is trying to be in the NCAA finals at the end of the year.”