Freshman Kylee Botterman flipped through the air, bounced off the vault and landed hard on her knees – instead of her feet.
One second, fifth-year senior Lindsey Bruck glided smoothly across the balance beam, and the next, she fell onto the mat.
Immediately after Bruck, sophomore Jordan Sexton wobbled in the middle of her routine and fell, too.
The three uncharacteristic falls defined the Michigan women’s gymnastics team’s first loss of the season, a 197.425-196.325 defeat at the hands of No. 3 Utah (11-1).
“We’re a little tired,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “It’s a long season, and I think some of that caught up with us a little bit tonight. We’re still a very good team, but we just weren’t as crisp and clean tonight as we need to be. We were just flat.”
While a majority of Michigan’s routines ended in stuck landings, the minor bobbles and mistakes cost the Wolverines fractions of points each time, and that added up. Only junior Becky Bernard earned average scores in the 9.900-point range. She won her sixth uneven bars title of the season.
Michigan’s two falls on beam – each an automatic half-point deduction – meant that Wolverines were forced to count a fall on beam for the first time since Jan. 19. The team beam score of 48.600 was its second-lowest performance on the apparatus this season.
Michigan ranks fifth nationally on beam.
“It wasn’t our normal ‘get out there and nail our beam routines,’ but I think we got out our little jitters for next weekend,” Bruck said.
Next Saturday, the fourth-ranked Wolverines (5-0 Big Ten, 18-1 overall) host the Big Ten Championships at Crisler Arena, looking to defend last year’s title. While this past weekend’s matchup was the last obstacle to Michigan’s undefeated regular season, the team says the postseason is more important.
“We made a couple decisions in lineups tonight to rest some people,” Plocki said. “Looking forward to next weekend was our priority.”
Freshman Kari Pearce was absent from the floor exercise lineup. Plocki said Pearce has been struggling with some leg pain.
The Wolverines have been fighting through minor aches and pains throughout the long season, going 11 straight weeks without rest. Their first bye weekend comes after the conference championships.
“We all have our injuries, but we’re all really tough girls,” Bernard said. “We don’t even think about what’s hurting when we get out there to compete.”
Michigan has looked forward to the postseason and the possibility of standing atop the podium at the NCAA National Championships in April all year. Sacrificing an unblemished record to give gymnasts some rest was a small price to pay for a shot at a national title.
“I look at this and try to take the good out of everything,” Plocki said. “I think maybe this is what we needed to make us rebound back, take that last deep breath and go out and finish the postseason the way we’re able to compete.”