Chances to upend a top-ranked team don’t come around often.
On Friday night, the No. 21 Michigan women’s gymnastics team let that opportunity slip right through their hands.
“We can’t afford to let opportunities like this to keep passing us by,” said Michigan head coach Bev Plocki.
After a strong start to the meet, the Wolverines just couldn’t hold on down the stretch. Utah (5-1), who came into Ann Arbor ranked first in the nation, proved too strong in their final two rotations and took the contest, 196.050-194.850.
The night looked promising from the start, as Michigan (6-2) continued it’s season-long proficiency on vault. Junior Brittnee Martinez and sophomore Stephanie Colbert started the event for Wolverines with decent scores, but it was the impressive performance of junior Katie Zurales that energized the team. Sophomore Joanna Sampson followed with an electrifying vault of her own, only to be topped by freshman Sachi Sugiyama’s event-best 9.900 at the tail end of the lineup. Not only was Michigan’s vault performance their third-best of the season, but the team also continued its streak of scoring above 49.000 on the event in every meet this season.
As the two teams swapped events, the Wolverines held a slight lead going into their second rotation on bars. A pair of 9.700 scores from the duo of Sugiyama and freshman Annette Miele led the way for Michigan. The Wolverines finished the event strong, as the trio of Sampson, Zurales, and Martinez all scored 9.775. The Utes held a narrow lead at the halfway point, 98.050-97.825.
“We came out of vault really confident, ready to hit bars, and we didn’t get exactly the scores we wanted to on bars, but we were still on a high,” said sophomore Shelby Gies.
Michigan looked to regain the lead heading into the third rotation, but knew it would need a stellar performance on beam. Gies, who competed in three events for the first time in her collegiate career, gave the Wolverines hope with a 9.800 to start. Zurales’ 9.850 tied for the event title, but it wouldn’t be enough, as Michigan struggled towards the end of its lineup. After the final two Wolverines fell and recorded 9.200, the team was forced to count one of the falls in their overall score.
“That is one thing that is very frustrating to me because we have worked endlessly on beam,” Plocki said. “They are performing great in practice and I’m just waiting for it to come up in competitions.”
With little hope of toppling Utah remaining, Michigan would need more of its previous magic on the floor. Miele, who has continued to improve her score throughout the last three meets, scored a season-high 9.800 early in the lineup. Sampson attempted to give the Wolverines a spark with her own season-best, 9.925, but it wouldn’t be enough to make up for the low scores of her other teammates.
“We’ve been working on keeping the energy high even if we don’t get the scores we wanted, or it works out the way we wanted to,” Sampson said. “I think we did a really good job with that all the way until the end.”
Sampson would go on to win the meet’s all-around performance, while Michigan finished the night with winners in three out of the four events. Nonetheless, the consistency of the Utes was simply too much for the Wolverines to handle.
“This is a very young team, and I wish there was a way we could inject a little more experience into these kids,” Plocki said. “But unfortunately, these are the growing pains that we are going through right now.”