On Friday, the No. 10 Michigan women’s gymnastics team proved that this year’s team was ready for redemption after barely missing the NCAA Championships last season.
With an entirely healthy squad, no graduated seniors and four new freshmen, the Wolverines beat Michigan State in an exhibition meet, 195.375-191.100.
“Our team chemistry and energy that we have on the team this year is phenomenal,” said Michigan coach Bev Plocki. “I think that the adversity that we went through last year definitely made us stronger, made us closer and made us better.”
Michigan swept the podium in the all-around and the individual events. Senior co-captain Katie Zurales won the all-around title with a 39.225, sophomore Sachi Sugiyama took second in the all-around with a 39.200 and junior co-captain Joanna Sampson finished third with a 38.500.
“It’s great to get out in Crisler Arena,” Zurales said. “It’s a good confidence booster. You know at the beginning of the season knowing that our routines are together and they’re there, just little perfection things here on out.”
In the first rotation, the Wolverines earned a 49.300 on vault to take the lead over Michigan State’s 47.875 on bars. Sampson tied her career high for the event with a 9.950 and Zurales contributed a 9.925 to place second. Defending Big Ten vault champion Sugiyama completed the most difficult vault of the day – a Yurchenko 1.5 – to take third on the event with a 9.850.
Freshman Austin Sheppard made her college debut on vault with a 9.825, finishing fourth.
“Austin, after the World Championships, had surgery on her knee and on her shoulder,” Plocki said. “Where she’s not all the way back yet, she did a great vault tonight and she’s doing routines on the other events. We just didn’t want to push her into lineups before it’s too early.”
On uneven bars, all six Michigan competitors scored above a 9.775. Zurales and Sugiyama tied for first, scoring 9.850. After both the vault and bar rotations finished, Michigan increased its lead over the Spartans to 98.450-96.275. Freshman Lindsay Williams also made her debut on Friday and scored a 9.775 on the uneven bars.
“Lindsay has delivered on everything that we thought that she was going to be able to do and it’s been a pleasure to have her,” Plocki said.
The Wolverines struggled on beam when senior Brittnee Martinez and Sampson both fell on their flight series, but the squad maintained its lead over Michigan State. Junior Shelby Gies won the event with a 9.800 and Zurales finished second with a 9.775, followed by sophomore Annette Miele with a 9.650.
“What we’ve done in practice is far superior to what we competed tonight and that’s just a product of the difference in pressure in a competition,” Plocki said. “That beam seems to go from four inches wide down to about two inches wide when you go under pressure.”
Michigan finished the meet on floor with a 48.825 and Sugiyama won another title with a 9.850. The loudest applause of the night, though, went to senior Natalie Beilstein when she electrified the audience with an upbeat routine that marked her comeback (though she did compete on the uneven bars earlier in the night, floor was her signature event) from a season-ending Achilles’ injury last season. Beilstein took second with a 9.800 and junior Stephanie Colbert finished third with a 9.775.
“I think we did really well,” Sugiyama said. “We still have some room for improvement. We just need to work under pressure more inside the gym but I think this year was a much better improvement from last year.”
Added Plocki: “I think we’re going to see a lot of pay-offs from that this year. I’ve got a great group of young women and I’m very proud of them and very excited about this season.”