On its way off the Crisler Arena floor, after finishing the final event of the night, the Michigan women”s gymnastics team waved hello to its fans.
Then the Wolverines waved good-bye to their opponents.
Punch the plane tickets to Georgia the Wolverines are headed back to the national championships for the ninth-consecutive year. Sparked by senior Bridget Knaeble”s all-around co-title in her final home appearance, the seventh-ranked Wolverines posted their second-highest team score of the year with a 197.225.
The mark was good enough to wrap up the Northeast Regional title, holding off the second-place mark of 196.725 posted by No. 6 Stanford, which also qualified for nationals.
“We”re really looking forward to going to nationals and putting together our best meet,” junior Missy Peterson said. “We”ve had a lot of hardships this year, but we”re staying strong and together as a team, and we”re just very excited and happy about this win.”
Perhaps no one on Michigan”s team stayed as strong as Peterson did on Saturday night. Leading after three events, the Wolverines headed to the beam looking to win their third consecutive regional title.
When Calli Ryals, the second competitor on the event, fell off the beam, not only was the night”s victory in jeopardy, but so was the team”s chances to qualify for nationals.
“I don”t watch the person in front of me,” Peterson said. “But, when I heard the crowd, I knew I just had to go out and do the routine like I know how.”
That attitude proved successful as Peterson quickly righted the ship with a 9.825 score.
After Knaeble, Shannon MacKenzie and Elise Ray all followed Peterson by completing their routines without any major problems, the Wolverines breathed a collective sigh of relief as they wrapped up the title.
“I was very nervous,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “When your second kid falls and you know your next four up have to hit, that”s about as much pressure as it gets.”
Knaeble”s clutch routine on the beam was the norm for her throughout the evening, as she came up with one of the best performances of her career in an important venue.
Competing in the all-around for the first time since February 23, at Utah, Knaeble tied Stanford”s Lindsay Wing for the individual title with a 39.525.
Knaeble, the Wolverines” senior tri-captain, began her night with an impressive 9.925 on the floor good enough for a second-place finish on that event. Add a co-title on the bars with teammate Elise Ray, a fifth-place finish on the beam along with a solid vault, and the result was Knaeble”s first individual all-around title of the year.
“I just went out and tried to do my best,” Knaeble said. “It was exciting to be in the beam lineup and get in the all-around, but I was just glad to pull it out.”
Knaeble”s performance came as no surprise to Plocki.
“Bridget has been very solid in practice on beam, and she earned her spot,” Plocki said. “She epitomizes toughness and competitiveness. She”s incredible.”
Throughout the competition, the Wolverines were able to show some toughness and pick up for teammates who struggled.
Ray was working on a nearly-flawless floor performance until a slip on her final tumbling pass.
Similarly, Cami Singer put together what appeared to be a mistake-free routine on the uneven bars. But a stumble on the dismount dropped her to a 9.400 score. At that point, Amy Kuczera led off a string of four straight Wolverines who were able to pick up the slack, canceling out Singer”s fall.
And finally, when Ryals who has been rock solid all season on the beam lost her footing, the Wolverines finished the night by proving they could handle a pressure situation.
When Ray closed the beam rotation for Michigan by nailing her landing, she set off a jubilant celebration as the Wolverines realized that their season would live to see another day.