Lindsay Williams didn’t know what it was like to be a key player.
For all but one month of her collegiate career, the sophomore was an alternate for the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team. The Northville, Mich. native has frequently exhibitioned throughout the season, making the occasional appearance on uneven bars and balance beam in the six-up, five-count team format.
On March 15 at the Big Ten Quad, however, Williams was thrust into a starting role where she has competed like a seasoned veteran.
Stepping in for sophomore Briley Casanova after the beam specialist strained her ankle in practice, Williams proved she was able to deliver in high-pressure situations. With two falls having already been counted, she clinched a much-needed, season-best score of 9.825 in the anchor position.
The following week, Williams contributed another solid beam set at the Big Ten Championships, helping the team clinch the conference title.
“We were the underdogs going into that afternoon session and we had something to prove since it had been two years since we won Big Ten,” she said. “It was nice to see our team score hold out in the evening session. It was the most unbelievable feeling ever.”
As the postseason approached and the stakes grew bigger, Williams expanded her role on the team at the NCAA Regionals. With sophomore Austin Sheppard out with an ankle injury, Williams was called upon to compete on bars for just the third time this season.
In an uncharacteristic fashion, senior Joanna Sampson recorded her first fall of the season after missing her release move. Preventing the fall from counting and backing up her teammate, Williams rallied in the anchor spot and set a new career high, 9.850.
“After she landed her bar routine, I literally had tears of joy,” Sampson said.
Added Williams: “I just tell myself that there’s no way I’m not going to make that routine.”
Keeping her team in the running for the top spot at regionals after bars, Williams showed consistency with her third hit beam routine in a row. Her two routines were crucial to the team’s first place finish.
“For her to be able to step in at the end of the season after things have already been established and people are in their flow of what they’re doing is amazing,” Sampson said.
A key factor to her recent success is her work ethic.
“You get exactly what you see,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “Even if she’s not the most talented kid on the team, she has earned the respect from very single one of her teammates because of her work ethic and her commitment. She’s just a very sincere, likeable, hardworking student-athlete.”
Williams started out her freshman year as a walk-on gymnast. Because of her progress and value to the team, she earned a scholarship at the end of the summer before her sophomore year.
Former assistant coach Shannon Walker first recognized the young talent when he saw her compete at nationals. It only took a few visits for her to be set on Michigan.
“When I came here, it just clicked,” Williams said. “I felt most comfortable with the girls at Michigan and the coaches made me feel really welcomed. Just seeing the facilities and the school, and knowing how great academically it is and how great the tradition is, it just really gave me the feeling that this is where I wanted to be.”
Since then, she has grown tremendously, with her physical strength showing the greatest improvement.
When Williams first started training with the Wolverines, she wasn’t 100 percent. One of her thighs was significantly smaller than the other because of a knee injury that required surgery her senior year of high school.
By focusing on strength and conditioning, Williams has made significant strides in her endurance and ability.
Now, Plocki feels confident about putting in Williams because of her dependability as her competition performance reflects her arduous training regimen.
Her role as an alternate throughout the majority of the season hasn’t diminished her competition her input into training and her work ethic is the same in the gym and in the classroom. Earning Academic All-Big Ten recognition, the neuroscience major values her education.
“Even though you’re the alternate, you’re right on the edge,” Williams said. “You need to think of yourself as being in the lineup because if something happens to someone, or there’s a situation where you need to go in essentially, you are in the lineup, so you just have to train with that mentality.”
With the Wolverines constantly pushing people in the lineup, alternates help the team effort as a whole and separate the top teams from everyone else in terms of depth.
In the upcoming season, Plocki sees her as a threat for a lineup spot on floor. But for now, only one thing is on the 20-year-old’s mind: NCAA Championships. As the team prepares for nationals, Williams can feel secure about her spot in the bars and beam lineups.
“I love seeing success stories like this because she’s been working extremely hard and she got to where she is today from putting in so much blood, sweat and tears into what she’s doing,” Plocki said. “It’s paying off for her and for us.”