Making the lineup as a freshman is impressive, especially when upperclassmen consist of the majority of the team.
Even more impressive is a gymnast who competes in the all-around after graduating high school in just three years.
What’s extraordinary is if that athlete wins Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
Becoming the first Wolverine since 2006 to earn the honor, Nicole Artz has consistently proven to be a key asset to the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team.
“I was going to be very shocked if she didn’t win that award, because week in and week out, she has been absolutely rock solid,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki.
Artz hadn’t even expected herself to be in the lineup this season, let alone gain recognition for the conference recognition. The team was loaded with juniors and seniors, and coaches made no promises that she’d compete right away.
“It’s not something that I would have thought was possible at the beginning of the year,” Artz said.
The Holland, Mich. native has competed at least two events in every meet this season. A four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Artz was also named to the All-Big Ten First Team. She holds a career-high score of 9.900 on the uneven bars and balance beam and has scored 9.900 or higher seven times on her favorite event, the floor exercise.
From her teammates to the senior leadership and coaching staff, Artz has had a seamless transition to the realm of college gymnastics. The heightened team atmosphere has helped her the most in her adjustment.
“In club gymnastics, you still have a team, but it’s much more individual-based,” Artz said. “Here, no matter what happens, your team is always going to be there for you.”
But despite her success, she wasn’t always perfect. At the tri-meet against UCLA and Utah on March 7, Artz fell for the first time all season on beam in the leadoff position. The five gymnasts who followed each hit their routines, dropping her score from the team total and resulting in an event season-high and a win over two top-10 teams.
“I had tears in my eyes because I was so happy,” Artz said. “It’s just the feeling that you wouldn’t expect or get in club gymnastics — knowing that they always have your back.”
In a quad meet the following week, her training ability was limited because of the flu. However, her mental toughness guided her to not only overcoming her beam fluke the previous week, but also obtaining a season-best score of 9.900 on the event.
Since coming to Michigan, Artz has upgraded her floor routine, adding a piked full-in tumbling pass, which consists of two back flips in the air with a full-twist completed in the first. On bars, she completes an entirely different routine, including her first-ever major release, a piked Tkatchev.
“From a coaching standpoint, she has absorbed everything that we’ve changed, whether it be new techniques or drills,” Plocki said. “She has just embraced everything we’ve given her and has grown so much in her confidence and her difficulty.”
Artz committed to Michigan the summer after her sophomore year but had her eyes set on the program long before that. After visiting the Donald R. Shepherd Training Center with the Region 5 Hi-Tech Gymnastics Training Camp in eighth grade, she was hooked.
“The facility doesn’t get much better than this,” Artz said.
The gymnast came to Michigan in style, boosting a club career that included winning the 2012 Junior Olympic National Championships floor title and traveling to Rio de Janeiro as part of the Region 5 All-Star Team in 2011.
That experience has helped her all year. While she is the youngest member of the squad, Artz looks more like a seasoned veteran than a freshman on the competition floor.
“You would never know she graduated school a year early unless she told you,” said fifth-year senior Natalie Beilstein. “She is very mature for her age and always willing to help out in any way she can. Working with her is always fun, and overall, she is just a great person and teammate.”
Her happy, upbeat attitude is infectious.
“She handles every situation she is dealt with a very positive attitude, and that has helped her tremendously,” Plocki said. “I would have expected her to have faced more difficulty transitioning but the reality is, she’s had no issues at all. She’s handled everything phenomenally well and has been a totally maintenance-free freshman.”
Artz is the type of gymnast every coach loves — consistent and reliable. What you see at meets is an exact replica of what you see in practice. And the best part? She has three years left.
“The sky is the limit for Nicole,” Plocki said. “She has a lot of untapped potential.”