EAST LANSING – If adversity makes a team closer, then the Wolverines must be one tight-knit group.
After posting a season-high score in Alabama on Friday night, but still losing, the Michigan women’s gymnastics team went into yesterday’s State of Michigan Classic at Jenison Field House looking to assert itself as the best program in the state. Instead, the Wolverines walked away wondering what happened.
“I’m disappointed, there’s no way to soft sell what happened,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “I really anticipated us coming here and having a great meet tonight.
“The mistakes made tonight were much more mental than physical.”
Eleventh-ranked Michigan (4-4) finished an unglamorous third overall, significantly behind winner Michigan State and second-place Central Michigan. The loss to the Spartans snapped the Wolverines’ string of 40 straight wins over Big Ten opponents. Michigan’s last loss came on Jan. 15, 1999, against Minnesota.
With just five gymnasts active on two events, Michigan had little margin for error. But the long weekend, combined with major falls, proved too much to overcome, even though the Wolverines almost swept the all-around individual titles.
“Hopefully, we’ll just throw this one out and forget about it,” junior Calli Ryals said.
The Wolverines had an inauspicious start to the meet, as they opened on the vault with a fall by sophomore Lauren Mirkovich. The team recovered to post a 49.050, and Becca Clauson earned the title with a 9.900.
All-around champion Janessa Grieco, who posted a career-high 39.350, led-off the second rotation on the bars and posted a solid 9.825, showing no ill effects from falling in Alabama on Friday night. But injury-plagued Chelsea Kroll posted an 8.4 – the equivalent of three falls – and Michigan had to count her score because only five gymnasts competed in the rotation. Although Mirkovich won the title on the bars, the team score was just a 47.850.
The Wolverines were still in the running after the bars, but their beam routines dashed any hopes of a win. Three different gymnasts fell, and Michigan had to count two falls. The event buried the Wolverines, who posted a 48.000. Plocki was disappointed with the team’s response.
“Instead of us getting ourselves together and regrouping, we just continued to let it bother us,” Plocki said. “We’re not going to go very far this season if we don’t change that very quickly and get a little bit mentally tougher.”
After the beam collapse, the Wolverines had to collect themselves going into their last rotation. Although they tied for the best team floor score of the night, highlighted by Ryals’ winning score of 9.950, it was not enough.
Freshman Jenny Deiley finished second in the all-around, while Ryals tied for third. The all-around dominance of Michigan looks good on paper, but showed yesterday that the Wolverines have major depth problems. Elise Ray, Erica Rubin, Christine Mantilia and Kallie Steffes are all injured, leaving just seven gymnasts who can even compete. But the Wolverines felt they had no excuses.
“I don’t think we want to make excuses for what happened,” Grieco said. “We’ll learn from our mistakes today.”
Adversity has made this team closer, and they’ve shown a propensity for coming back.
“We’re fighting,” Ryals said. “Especially in Alabama, it showed how we really pulled together as a team.”