When senior captain Lindsey Bruck went down with a season-ending Achilles injury during the season opener at West Virginia Jan. 12, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team’s chances for another successful season may have gone down with her.
Bruck, on of three Michigan gymnasts who compete in every event, is a two-time All-American and the defending individual all-around and balance beam Big Ten Champion. More important, she’s the team leader.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said.
In addition to Bruck, freshman all-around competitor Jordan Sexton also suffered a season-ending injury. Add on injuries to senior Carol McNamara and freshman Kelsey Knutson, and the Wolverines have has been competing short handed through the first two meets.
“Losing two athletes in the all-around is devastating when you consider how small our team is to begin with,” Plocki said. “In terms of our depth, when you take someone from the top and replace her with someone from the bottom, it’s hard.”
Just two other Wolverines have participated in the all-around this season – freshman Sarah Curtis and junior Nellie Kippley.
But Plocki’s team has won seven of the last eight Big Ten titles, and Michigan isn’t about to give up on its chance to make that eight out of nine.
Cue sophomores Huneth Lor and Becky Bernard.
Two weekends ago against Southern Utah, Lor was asked to do something she had never done at the collegiate level: compete in the all-around, which consists of all four events. That weekend, Lor also did something she had never done on the college level: win an individual title.
“It was pretty exciting,” Lor said. “I’m not a very powerful gymnast, so to win vault is different for me.”
Lor didn’t just win, she was the anchor. And by being the last to perform, she faced more pressure because the team’s success fell on her shoulders.
After a Wolverine fell early on, everyone else had to hit, which they did.
“I was nervous at first, but I just focused on what I needed to do and just went hard,” Lor said.
Lor didn’t just go hard – she wowed everyone at Crisler Arena.
For the first time in her college career, she performed a Yurchenko layout full.
And she hit it.
Lor received a 9.8 and a first-place finish.
But what’s more promising for Michigan is Lor’s performance in the all-around. She finished the evening in second place.
Lor’s success isn’t the only reason the Wolverines are breathing a sigh of relief. Bernard stepped up in a big way, too.
“When Bruck and Sexton went down, that was eight routines right there that we had to fill by the next week,” Bernard said. “People had to step up in a short period of time.”
Bernard won the uneven bars title at West Virginia, but her performance against Southern Utah proved she was ready to take on a new role.
Bernard captured three individual titles. She won the uneven bars and set career bests in the floor exercise and balance beam.
The performances by both sophomores were stellar, but they didn’t surprise Plocki.
“On one hand, it’s great, but on the other hand, it’s what we expect,” Plocki said. “They’re both sophomores. We expect more than last year. It’s nice, though, that they are coming through, that they have risen the bar for themselves and that they are performing more up to their capabilities.”
Even though the team will have to fight through adversity the rest of the season, Plocki remains optimistic.
“These kids are hardworking,” Plocki said. “Everyone just needs to be committed and needs to put 100 percent into continuing to improve. Hard work in the gym results in more improvements on the competition floor.”