It was a bittersweet finish to the Big Ten regular season for the No. 12 Michigan women’s gymnastics team — a small victory, but a bigger defeat.
The squad posted its second-highest mark of the season, but was overpowered by the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions in the Penn State Quad, dismantling the Wolverines’ hopes of an undefeated conference schedule.
The Sunday meet saw Michigan take second place, in front of Maryland and Bridgeport, but trailing Penn State by a score of 196.725-196.575.
The finish was the Wolverines’ first Big Ten loss in over three years, a streak of 32 consecutive wins stretching back to Feb. 16, 2007 — also a loss against Penn State.
“Unfortunately, we had to count a fall on the uneven bars,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “And at this level of play and this late in the season, you can’t expect to count a fall and walk away with a victory.
Except for several falls on the night, the Wolverines (4-1 Big Ten, 12-2 overall) were very consistent. But after two falls on the beam, the team was all but doomed.
Going into the final rotation on the balance beam trailing by .475, the team erased most of its deficit, boosted by a season-high score on the beam, but it wasn’t enough to close the gap.
“We’ve had our trouble on beam, but when we hit it, it’s one of our best events,” Plocki said. “I was very proud with how they finished beam tonight, and how we almost caught back up with Penn State.”
And taking the top crown for the balance beam was a surprising performer, freshman Katie Zurales, who won her first collegiate event with a career-high 9.925.
Zurales also nailed a 9.900 on the vault, another career-best, but her victory on beam capped off a great afternoon.
“There was no way I was letting my team down,” Zurales said of her beam routine. “I did everything in my power to make it, and it was just very exciting and successful.”
From a coach’s standpoint, the breakout performance was no surprise.
“Katie started off the season slow because she had mono and some other injuries,” Plocki said. “But she was very, very impressive. She is just starting to come into her own, and I hope that it will continue and carry her into the postseason.”
Another standout routine came from freshman Natalie Beilstein, who received scores of 9.900 for both her vault and floor routines.
In the all-around, junior Kylee Botterman paced the Wolverines with a 39.500, while senior Sarah Curtis hit with a 39.450 total.
But even with the successes across the board, it was the slight slip-ups that cost the team this time. The Wolverines will aim to fix those mishaps as they gear up for the postseason.
As Michigan looks ahead to a looming matchup against No. 5 Georgia at Crisler Arena next Friday, it will be searching for consistency and precision.
“We’re just looking forward to trying to continue to improve and drop our low scores,” Plocki said. “And with that we can hopefully improve our ranking as much as possible before we go to regionals to help us with our seeding.”