Coming out of the first uneven bars rotation up .900, with three straight scores over 9.900, Michigan’s No. 1 women’s gymnastics team looked set to have another 198+ score encounter to follow its title of regular season Big Ten- decisive performance in the Big Five meeting last week.
So when three Wolverines fell in the second rotation on their nationally highest-ranked jump, it was completely unexpected.
Forced to score two 9.325s for the vault, Michigan needed a gymnast to step in and deliver. This gymnast was junior Sierra Brooks.
Brooks delivered his first career perfect 10,000, en route to winning two event titles and the all-around, securing the Wolverines’ undefeated regular season (12-0 overall, 9-0 Big Ten) against Nebraska (5- 6, 4-5), 196.475 to 196.225.
“What’s so amazing about this team is that there wasn’t just one person who dominated the all-around every time,” Michigan coach Bev Plocki said. “When someone struggles, someone else steps in and does amazing things. So I’m really proud of Sierra today that she was able to come away with a 10,000 on an otherwise shocking jump performance.
With victories on vault and floor, Brooks won her third all-around title this season. She is also the fourth Wolverine to post a perfect 10,000 jump score, which made Michigan’s jump score of 48.275 even more surprising.
“The hiccups we had are just something really unusual, especially on the jump,” Brooks said. “So for the rest of the competition, I think we were just in the mindset that we were in, do what we know how to do…we have to rise to the level of competition that we see.”
The mark of a great team is not when it falls, it’s what it does after getting back up.
After their lackluster performance on the vault, down 0.025, the Wolverines needed an outstanding performance on the floor exercise to regain the lead. With sophomore Reyna Guggino going out of bounds on her first pass, the pressure was on for Michigan’s next five gymnasts. Senior Abby Heiskell and sophomore Naomi Morrison both posted impressive scores of 9.950, and Brooks anchored the Wolverines with a 9.975, tying her personal best and winning the event title.
The Wolverines headed into the final rotation by a slim .300, and after another performance from Brooks, all eyes were on senior Natalie Wojcik as she climbed into fifth with Michigan’s lead at .125.
Looking at Wojcik’s winning performance on beam with 9,900m, you would never have known she fell on the vault and went out of bounds on the floor exercise. All you would see is a competitor who secured victory for her team in a high pressure situation.
“To have (Wojcik) come back and do the floor routine and then win on the beam in a very tight situation for us there shows what a competitor she is,” Plocki said. “Great teams have the ability to leave the past in the past and stay focused on the present. You can’t look forward, you can’t look back, you have to focus on what you’re doing at the moment.
No coach, team or athlete likes to fail. But sometimes failure is necessary to challenge a team, show them their weaknesses and prepare them for a bigger challenge ahead.
“We’ve been so consistent, we haven’t counted a foul all season… If it was going to happen, it happened in the perfect place,” Plocki said. “…Starting next weekend (at No. 2 Oklahoma), we have to fire on all cylinders. Hopefully this is the bottom before our program’s final upward trajectory to a successful post-season.