At the women’s gymnastics Maize and Blue Intrasquad Friday, the judges’ explanations for picking a winner included “She had a nice smile” and “I liked the flippy thing at the end.”
In the annual exhibition meet, celebrity judges Rishi (Superfan) Moudgil, softball standout Samantha Findlay and singer-songwriter Matthew Santos chose between the Maize or Blue squads, who faced off in individual events.
“To me, it was really about having some fun,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “We picked some judges who really don’t know anything about gymnastics, and we thought it would be funny to hear their explanations.”
In the end, the judges sided with the Blue team as it defeated the Maize squad, 12-9.
Fifth-year senior Lindsey Bruck and sophomores Sarah Curtis and Jordan Sexton, who suffered season-ending injuries last season, all competed in the exhibition.
Many of the gymnasts were either not performing full routines or needed assistance completing their routines. The Michigan coaches spotted on the floor and laid out towels on the beam to soften the landing.
“We have some kids who are coming back from injuries and they’re still doing their routines in the soft surface,” Plocki said. “We didn’t want them taking any chances of landing on the hard floor.”
The meet’s most exciting moment came during freshman and Maize team member Trish Wilson’s debut on the floor routine. Halfway through the routine, Wilson stepped off, and senior Katie Lieberman somersaulted across the floor.
Later, the Blue team countered with a tag-team performance of its own. But the judges overlooked the routine and awarded Maize instead.
“This is really a fun opportunity to go out there and enjoy the sport,” senior Nellie Kippley said. “It’s a good time to go out there and play it up a bit.”
The most difficult event of the evening for Michigan was the balance beam. Gymnast after gymnast struggled to stay upright.
“Beam is always the event where we look really good in practice, but the minute you get into a stressful pressure situation, they tighten up,” Plocki said. “You can’t tighten up on beam because you make the tiniest mistake, you’re not absorbing and you end up falling off.”
Michigan has a month off to improve until it faces Arkansas and West Virginia in its regular-season opener.
“Definitely, in another month’s time, we’ll be ready to come out here and perform,” Plocki said.
After last year’s disappointment of not making the Super Six, the team has high goals.
“I think that we can contend for a National Title this year,” Plocki said. “I would expect nothing less than to be in the Super Six and challenging anybody in the country on any given day.”