The Wolverine

June-July 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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8 THE WOLVERINE JUNE/JULY 2021 B ev Plocki's national champion gymnasts burst into a tor- rent of emotion, upon plant- ing their flag at the summit. They screamed, they hugged, they let tears flow freely. Exulting inside Fort Worth's Dick- ies Arena, the Wolverines unleashed emotion previously unexplored in Plocki's 32 years of coaching. And they were far from alone. Across the country, hundreds of former Michigan gymnasts ex- ploded in similar fashion. They'd mentally climbed up on the balance beam with junior Abby Heiskell for the title-clinching routine. They'd held their breath at every movement. When Heiskell nailed the dismount, they fist-pumped and shouted. When the final scores revealed the 2021 Wolverines at the top, they leapt from couches every- where to claim a piece of history. Wendy (Comeau) Mihm (1987- 90) rejoiced among an avalanche of memories. The marketer from Bethesda, Md., experienced Michi- gan gymnastics at its nadir, and took part in a sit-in that forced the coaching change that brought Plocki to Michigan. Diane (Armento) Metcalf (1989-92) — deputy athletic director at Mer- rimack College in North Andover, Mass. — was a freshman on the last-place Big Ten team that initiated the change. Mihm, Metcalf and ev- eryone else in a habitually poor pro- gram knew the Wolverines couldn't remain in the basement any longer. "There was an article in one of the papers that called us 'the peren- nial cellar dwellers' in gymnastics," Metcalf recalled. "It just sticks in my mind. You can't get much lower than that, right?" Everyone on the roster quickly felt the rise, when then-Bev Fry entered the door. Expectations, confidence and practice habits began to soar. "The minute she walked into the gym, you could tell that things were about to change in the best way," Mihm insisted. Plocki made practice like competi- tion. The Wolverines performed rou- tines just like they would in meets, saluting judges and honing move- ments down to the last detail. "I had not been prepared that way for a meet in my entire life, and I'd been doing gymnastics since I was 8," Mihm said. "I'll tell you what, when I got to the meet, I wasn't so nervous, even for beam." It didn't stop there. Plocki rejected previously made travel plans. In an era in which women's athletics were too lightly regarded, she wasn't hav- ing it. Mihm recalled: "She would go, 'We're not staying here. This is not good enough for you guys. You guys are University of Michigan gymnasts, and you deserve to stay in a better hotel. I'm going to cancel this and get you what you deserve.' "When someone talks to you that way, you start to see yourself in a different light." Soon enough, everyone else did. "With Bev, it was a complete mind- set shift," Metcalf noted. "It was her getting us to believe in ourselves and have confidence. We had talent. It was putting it together in the meets." They put it together enough to earn a Big Ten championship in Metcalf's final year. Three seasons later, Michi- gan tied for second in the nation. It took another quarter century — peppered with top-10 national fin- ishes — to kick down the final door. When the Wolverines did, they set off a celebration that reverberated from coast to coast. Sophomore Sierra Brooks, junior Natalie Wojcik and Heiskell closed it out, all posting scores better than 9.9 on the beam, perhaps the most mine-laden event in gymnastics. "They just crushed it," Mihm said. "I was already crying by the time Natalie was done. Once you've had two in a row that are that strong, I just knew Abby was going to hit. Abby knew Abby was going to hit. "I was just choking back tears. When she dismounted, she couldn't even get off the platform before she started crying. I was crying, she was crying … I'm crying right now, thinking about it. "It was so incredible. When I saw them hand the trophy to Bev, I was just beside myself. There is no hu- man on earth who deserves this more than her — no one. It was mag- ical. It was amazing. Then again, it wasn't that surprising. You could see what she had built over time." Everyone saw what she had built, what they had built, by refusing to accept mediocrity and second-class status. "It was the culmination of all the years of commitment and persever- ance," Metcalf said. "I was so thrilled for the team, and for Bev. She deserves this so much. This program deserved it. It was built on the backs of the many women that had come before." All but one championship routine returns for Plocki in 2021-22. Need- less to say, alums from the long road to the top will be watching. "Now she's in the club, and boy, does she deserve to be there," Mihm insisted. "So do those athletes. I can't say enough about this team, how hard they worked. It's just an incredible victory for all of us, and I'm so proud." ❏ WOLVERINE WATCH   JOHN BORTON A Breakthrough That Transcends Sport Bev Plocki inherited a U-M women's gym- nastics program that was considered "perennial cellar dwellers" and transformed it to a championship-caliber one, culminat- ing with this year's national title. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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