EAST LANSING – The meet had come down to one person in the one event that had plagued her all season. It was Erica Rubin on the uneven bars to determine whether the No. 10 Michigan gymnastics team would win or lose in East Lansing Saturday night. In what can only be described as a focused and gutsy performance, Rubin exorcised the demons of the season and her past by hitting a routine that propelled the Wolverines to victory over Michigan State and Pittsburgh.
“I didn’t actually know I was competing until today,” Rubin said. “I do it in practice every day, and that’s my job – to step in and do what’s needed to be done.”
The Wolverines started on beam and, despite an early fall by Chelsea Kroll, were able to hit on five routines and post a 49.350 that put them in the early lead. Especially impressive after the fall were the performances of freshmen Becca Clauson and Jenny Deiley, who cooly hit their routines.
Michigan then moved to the floor, where some small steps on landings cost them in the score column. The Wolverines posted an uncharacteristically low 49.250 and opened the door for the Spartans to make a push. Michigan senior Janessa Grieco lived it up in her last regular season meet, though, as she placed third and smiled straight for the team’s video camera twice during her routine.
On the vault, Michigan had no falls and had no major mistakes. Deiley and Kroll claimed first and second, respectively, and the team posted a 49.150.
Going into the final rotation, Michigan led by a seemingly comfortable 0.650, but Michigan State was on the floor, and with the Senior Night crowd urging it on, it posted uncharacteristilly high scores, including a 10.0 by one of the judges. This was in spite of a Pittsburgh gymnast who was able to hit a seemingly more difficult routine, but only received a 9.875.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines were having flashbacks to their last trip to Jenison, as they struggled on the uneven bars. Seven weeks ago in East Lansing, the Wolverines hit their lowest point of the year, posting a season-low score of 193.900 and a bar score of 47.850. The slide continued as injuries mounted, and the future looked bleak. Michigan was able to work its way back, but it remained to be seen whether the Wolverines could completely forget that day.
All-around champion Calli Ryals and Grieco placed first and second with 9.9s and better, but the middle of the lineup struggled. Deiley’s legs seemed to give out in both her warmup and competition landings. Rosella missed her release, and the drama unfolded as Rubin stepped up.
“Kara Rosella and Erica Rubin have stepped up for us when we needed them,” Plocki said. “They’re not the ones scoring the 9.9s and the 10.0s, but they’ve played a huge role for us in winning meets this year.”
“It was really important for my confidence,” Rubin said. “It all came together today, so I was really excited.”
Saturday night was cathartic for the Wolverines, as their journey as a team has come full circle. Michigan battled through falls on the beam and bars, keeping its cool and focus while producing some great individual efforts. The Wolverines did not count a fall the entire meet, a testament to how far this team has come.
“You can just tell, I think mentally we’re a lot stronger,” Ryals said. “We’re not a super consistent team right now, but we’ve proved many times that after a fall, our team can get back up and hit.”
Michigan will need more performances like that as it enters into the postseason, starting with the Big Ten Championships at Champaign this coming weekend.
“Tonight wasn’t the best performance that we’ve had so far, but we fought through our meet,” Grieco said.