CHAMPAIGN – It’s one thing for a team to compete with half of its scholarship athletes, including an All-American, out due to injury. It’s something entirely different for that same team to win a Big Ten Championship.
On Saturday, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team did just that, scoring a season-high 197.450 to hold off Iowa and win its 12th Big Ten Championship. The win extends the Wolverines’ Big Ten Championship win streak to an impressive five straight meets and is also the 10th Big Ten Title in the last 11 years for Michigan.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “I told them before we came out tonight that I wanted them to come out on the floor and not compete not to lose. They needed to put it all out there on the floor and be aggressive, and if they made a mistake, I wanted them to make it giving 150 percent, and that’s exactly what they did.”
The most satisfying part about the event was not that the 10th-ranked Wolverines (10-1 Big Ten, 17-6 overall) won, but how they won. Going into the third rotation (Michigan’s second event), the Wolverines trailed the Hawkeyes 49.250-49.125. The next event for the gymnasts was bars, an event that the team has had its fair share of problems on this season. Junior Calli Ryals notched a 9.9 in the middle of the routine and was followed up by freshman Jenny Deiley’s career high 9.95. Sophomore Lauren Mirkovich put the icing on the cake with a 9.925. Plocki was visibly pleased, giving an emphatic fist-pump after each routine. The score, a 49.450, was a season-high, and was also good to tie for the fifth-best postseason bars score in Michigan history.
“It just goes to prove that the potential is there, the talent is there, and you just have to learn how to hit it mentally, and we did that today, so we’re on a roll,” Ryals said.
Sometimes teams experience letdowns after a particularly pleasing performance, but the Wolverines would have none of that. After a fall by sophomore Kara Rosella on the first performance on beam, Michigan caught fire. Sophomore Chelsea Kroll tied a career high with a 9.925, and Deiley and Becca Clauson gave solid contributions with a 9.85 and 9.825, respectively. But those scores just paved the way for senior Janessa Grieco, who scored a 9.95, which was a career high and also tied the Michigan record for postseason beam scores. Ryals finished off the magnificent series of performances with a 9.925 of her own.
“It was really exciting, too, because I don’t usually watch anyone do beam, but I had seen Kara fall, and so I was like, ‘This is it, we want to win Big Tens. This is going to be it,'” Grieco said.
After the Wolverines matched their bars score with an identical 49.450 on floor, it was all over. Well, almost.
The Big Ten conference also handed out its season awards. These awards included the Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year, which were won by Plocki and Deiley respectively.
The feeling in the gym after it was all over was one of jubilation for the Michigan fans who had made the trek from Ann Arbor to support the team. Perhaps the happiest person of all was Plocki herself.
“Up until tonight, I thnk that the 1992 Big Ten Title-the first won that we won-probably held the warmest place in my heart,” she said. “But after tonight, this one definitely does because just what this team has been through, and to come out here and compete and win this meet with really only using 50 percent of our scholarship athletes is just a testament to these kids’ sheer grit and determination. I am so proud of them, I could just burst.”