EAST LANSING-At first glance, it looks bad, really bad.
For the first time in eight years, the No. 7 Michigan women’s gymnastics team failed to finish at the top of the podium in the Big Ten Championships. It relinquished that spot to No. 21 Minnesota on Saturday night at Jenison Field House.
But when you look a little closer, the Wolverines’ fourth-place finish isn’t nearly as awful as it first seems. Although it didn’t make the podium as a team, Michigan recorded 13 top-five finishes in individual events. Junior Lindsey Bruck won the all-around championships in dominating fashion, and Michigan took home individual championships on three apparatuses.
“I know this is not the meet that we wanted,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “No one is pleased with our performance tonight. But there is a lot to feel good about in this meet. I think the strength of the team is the strength of its individuals. We have a lot of talented athletes, and we had a lot of great spots in this meet and a lot of great routines.”
Blink and you would have missed Michigan’s sole hiccup of the night – the hiccup that undoubtedly cost them the hardware. The Wolverines started strong on both vault and uneven bars, but things fell apart for them on the balance beam. The first four Wolverines fell off the apparatus midway through their routines.
Michigan began to steer off-course when junior Carol McNamara, the first Wolverine to mount the beam, uncharacteristically lost her balance and fell hard to the mat. But, by the time senior Becca Clauson, the fifth Wolverine to compete on the apparatus, back-flipped off of the beam to a 9.800 finish, it was hard to imagine Michigan had ever been off-track. Bruck’s first-place routine closed out the event for the Wolverines.
“If I only knew what the explanation was,” Plocki said. “Beam is beam, and there is no explanation for that. That has never happened to us before when we have had our first four kids miss. We have nobody to blame but ourselves, nobody is happy with our beam performance.”
In the locker room the team tried to regain its composure and focus on ending the meet on a positive note. The break in rotation gave Michigan an opportunity to shake off what was undeniably their worst rotation of the year and realize that both this meet and their season were far from over.
“During the bye we all talked, and we just got together,” Clauson said. “Our coach told us we can either let this get worse and mope around and go out on a negative vibe or we could go out and do the best floor routines that we can do and go out with pride.”
Even though the bye worked in the team’s favor after the balance beam, it was their bye prior to the event that greatly contributed to the Wolverines inability to stay on the apparatus. All of the momentum that the Wolverines had built up during vault and bars evaporated during the 20-minute break, causing the team to go into their beam warm-ups out of sync.
“The bye rotations are a blessing and a curse,” Plocki said. “I think the bye rotation going into beam detaches you from the competition. When you have so many bye rotations and it’s hard to just jump back into the meet. However, the bye after beam gave us a chance to talk to the team and re-group and shake off the pity party we had for ourselves.”
By the time Michigan was ready to close out the night on floor exercise the Wolverine’s knew they were out of contention for the Big Ten title but were still determined to end the night on a high note.
With their season-low balance beam score of 48.175 behind them, all six gymnasts executed flawless flour routines. McNamara redeemed herself from beam and won the event with a score of 9.900. Michigan went on to win the floor exercise and place five Wolverines on the podium.
“I am happy with how well we came back and finished,” Pocki said. “For us that was just a pride factor to come back after the atrocious beam rotation that we had and not give up. I think that was the character that this team has, they weren’t going to go feel sorry for themselves and give up on the rest of the meet.”
With the NCAA Regional Championships two weeks away, the Wolverines will need to figure out how to bring their stellar individual performances together to make a strong and complete team meet.
“Even though we had a bad meet this time it will sets in the right direction for the next meet,” McNamara said. “This year is not over with at all. We have learned a lot from this meet and we are going to come together more and head into Regionals strong.”