STATE COLLEGE — “This just felt like sheer
torture,” Michigan women’s gymnastics coach Bev Plocki
said Saturday.

And for Michigan, she was right. The Wolverines eked out a
second-place finish at the Northeast Regional meet with a score of
196.375, and qualified to compete at the National Championships in
two weeks. Georgia ran away with the competition, scoring a
197.525.

Mistakes and a few flat performances by Michigan allowed Iowa
State and Penn State to stay close — the Cyclones and host
Nittany Lions finished .225 and .400 points out of second place,
respectively, in a competition that came down to the wire. A
comeback on beam gave the Wolverines just enough to become one of
the two teams that the region will send to nationals.

The night seemed destined to be a difficult one from the start.
Michigan drew a rotation in which they started on the floor
exercise and ended on balance beam.

“Starting or ending on beam are the two most difficult
rotations to draw,” Plocki said. “It was
stressful.”

The Wolverines compiled a 49.150 total on the floor exercise, a
number they have bettered multiple times during the regular season.
Redshirt junior Elise Ray was Michigan’s high scorer, with a
9.875. On the next event, the vault, Ray and sophomore Jenny Deiley
led the way with 9.900 scores, and the team totaled 49.250. These
scores were a bit lower than Michigan had hoped for, which,
according to Plocki, may have been because judges were trying to
leave themselves some room for scoring in later rotatations.

“At a regional meet, judges are more picky with deductions
because they are trying to differentiate six really quality
teams,” Plocki said. “When you do a good routine and
the score is average, it’s hard to keep that emotional
enthusiasm up.”

During the third rotation, in which Michigan had a bye, it was
Penn State that started bringing emotion into the competition. The
Nittany Lions hit vault after vault, igniting the home crowd and
gaining momentum. Then it was the Wolverines’ turn to step up
to a difficult apparatus — the uneven bars.

Freshman Lindsay Bruck, who fell during her touch warm-up, fell
again during her routine, as did junior Lauren Mirkovich. This
meant that Michigan would have to count a fall in its total score
for the event.

“When we had the fall on bars, Penn State was on a roll,
and they were looking great,” Plocki said. “I
wasn’t really sure (if we could recover).”

Like true veterans, Ray and senior Calli Ryals finished the
event with strong scores of 9.975 and 9.900, respectively. The
Nittany Lions also counted a fall on bars, recording a 48.425 to
Michigan’s 48.550 on the event. Now if the Wolverines could
outscore Penn State on beam, and fend off surging Iowa State, they
could secure second place.

But then lead off gymnast Chelsea Kroll fell off the beam during
her routine.

“When our first kid up fell — talk about ultimate
pressure,” Plocki said. “Every person after that had to
be totally on, and they were.”

Bruck redeemed herself by hitting a solid routine directly after
Kroll’s fall, earning a 9.825. Sophomore Becca Clauson and
Deiley followed suit, with 9.875 and 9.850 scores, respectively.
And after Ryals’ near-perfect 9.925, the pressure was on Ray
to finish the meet and seal up second place.

“I started focusing right after bars was over,” Ray
said. “I just mentally talked to myself from the end of bars
until beam was finished. I had to stay in a bubble until I was done
(with my routine).”

Although Plocki said she joked about Ray, a former Olympian,
having never experienced pressure before, she also said placing
veterans at the end of the lineup is crucial.

“They’ve been there. They know what they need to
do,” Plocki said. “Having (Ray) anchor the meet was
just a perfect ending.”

Ray captured the all-around title and also won the title on bars
and beam. After the meet, the co-captain didn’t mention her
own awards, but instead said she just felt relieved the team
qualified for nationals.

“We just had to hang tough, especially after the
(mistakes) we had,” Ray said. “We put enough together
to make it, and we’re just happy.”

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