Despite having 3,854 screaming fans in its corner at Crisler Arena Friday night a regular season record the Michigan women”s gymnastics team was not able to overcome the strength, finesse and perfection of its west coast rivals, UCLA, falling to the Bruins 197.7-197.125.
The loss could not overshadow the Wolverines” near flawless performance, as their team score was the second highest of the season thus far.
“I”m really thrilled with our performance,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “Quite frankly, I was a little bit nervous about competing in Crisler because it was our first time this season. But, I”m glad we came here and had a good experience because we have to be here three more times this year.”
The biggest surprise of the meet for Michigan came on the balance beam, where it was able to overcome its recent difficulties in the event and post its highest score of the year, a 49.125. With six consecutive solid routines and no falls, the Wolverines” beam performance was the brightest point of the evening. Michigan juniors Shannon Mackenzie and Melissa Peterson both tied for fourth overall with a 9.85.
“After the Utah meet, we changed our strategy by backing off on a little bit of the difficulty,” Plocki said. “It”s what I would call smarter gymnastics. They all had a 10 start value, but we were able to take out some of the unnecessary risk, and we hit.”
Although much of the focus before the meet was placed on the four summer Olympians who were competing Elise Ray for Michigan, and Kristen Maloney, Jamie Dantzscher, and Yvonne Tousek for UCLA the overall effort of all team members was what kept the meet close until the end.
The Wolverines began their first rotation on the vault. Michigan senior Christine Michaud won the event and tied her career-high with a 9.95.
“It”s disappointing that we lost, but we are all pretty happy with our performance tonight,” Michaud said. “We really went out and tried to attack and I think we stepped up to the challenge.”
Even with Michaud”s score, the Wolverines fell behind after the first rotation by .35 of a point. Dantzscher performed brilliantly on the uneven bars for the Bruins, winning the event with a near perfect 9.975.
The meet remained tight after the second rotation as both teams continued to perform at their best.
It wasn”t until the final rotation that the Wolverines finally received an opportunity to strike. After Michigan junior Jodie Rosenberg opened up with a 9.875 on the floor exercise, UCLA freshman Yvonne Tousek fell on the beam, providing Michigan with a chance to take the lead for the first time. But the Bruins would not fold, posting three consecutive scores of 9.9, and finishing with a 9.925 by the all-around champion, Onnie Willis.
“It”s quite common in gymnastics for a spiral or domino effect to occur where one person falls and everybody else knows they have to hit,” UCLA coach Valerie Kondos said. “Just that added little pressure can do something to your nerves and your energy that doesn”t allow you to stay on those four inches. From a coaching standpoint, I was excited to see them rise to the occasion and not let the nerves get to them.”
Completing the meet on the floor exercise, the Wolverines received excellent performances from freshman Calli Ryals who tied for first overall with a 9.925 and Ray, who scored a 9.975 but lost .1 of a point for stepping out of bounds.
With the season winding down, Michigan continues to gather strength and confidence, as it will once again compete for a national title. It looks inevitable that these teams will again meet in the NCAA championships.
“I think we proved tonight that we can hang with them,” Plocki said. “I also think every one of these kids knows that we have definite areas of improvement. It wasn”t a large gap tonight, and I think we could definitely go back in our routines and find places that we could clean up very easily.”