There’s a saying in life that you have to work hardest for the things that mean the most. This statement could not be more true this year for the Michigan women’s gymnastics team.
The Wolverines captured the NCAA Northeast Regional championship on Saturday, holding off five other teams, including No. 3 Arizona State, with a score of 196.825. The Sun Devils finished second with a 196.725.
“I think it’s really important for the team, especially since our team is very young,” junior Calli Ryals said. “There’s only a few of us that have a lot of experience, so for us to go out and hit provides a good foundation for them to build off of and to build their confidence off of.”
Michigan coach Bev Plocki also was pleased with the performance.
“It’s exciting to see this group of athletes putting it together when they need to … peaking at the right time of the season,” Plocki said. “I knew that they were capable of doing it, but we have a lot of technically inexperienced athletes at this level. Really Calli and Janessa (Grieco) are the only two that have competed at a national championship caliber type competition.”
The key moment in the meet came in the fifth rotation (Michigan’s fourth) on the beam. Because of a low score of 49.025 on bars, the Wolverines had their backs to the wall. To add to the tension, Iowa State was also making a charge, to the point that the Hawkeyes were practically breathing down the Wolverines’ necks.
The Wolverines did not just respond to the pressure by hitting on beam. All six routines (five of which count) were above 9.80, including a 9.9 from freshman Becca Clauson.
“It was funny because Bev kind of grouped us together and gave us kind of a pep talk, and it’s always the same in a situation like that,” Ryals said. “Beam is one of our best events, so there is no reason to get nervous, just go out and hit. And that was basically it. Just go after it. That’s kind of the attitude we had going into beam.”
Ryals herself was, simply put, on fire. In addition to being the All-Around Title winner, she also tied for first place on both the floor exercise and the uneven bars.
“It’s kind of cool because I’ve had kind of a rough season,” Ryals said. “It feels good to be able to pick it back up.”
Freshman Jenny Deiley, who was the runner-up to Ryals in the All-Around, also had a very good showing. In addition to being the runner-up in the All-Around, she also tied won the vault title and Ryals for first on uneven bars.
Michigan also got some help in winning the meet. The Sun Devils, who have been ranked in the top five nationally for much of the season, choked on beam, scoring a 49.2 to hand the victory over to the Wolverines.
“It just so happened that we were a tenth better,” Plocki said. “There’s so much parody across the country, that on any given night it doesn’t matter if you’re number three or number ten, either team could win. I think that that’s something that we have to take into the national championship and go okay they were number, well there’s four through nine that are technically still ahead of us, but if we could beat number three we could beat any of the rest of them too.”
In the end, the Wolverines left the floor tired but elated. All the hard work over the season had finally put them in the position that they wanted to be in.
“In the situation we were put in, I think I was really proud of our team,” Ryals said “(We) did awesome.”