The Wolverine

January 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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54 THE WOLVERINE JANUARY 2022 H ead coach Bev Plocki and her wom- en's gymnastics program are com- ing off their first NCAA championship in program history. With the new cam- paign about to get underway, and U-M ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll, it is not lost on her how special a run last year was for the Wolverines. "Just amazing," Plocki said. "It's interest- ing to me that sometimes it's the more adversity that you go through that makes things even that much more special. That was definitely the case last year. "Our staff and this team went through, just like every team did, so many things. Everything was different and more chal- lenging. That kind of thing is either go- ing to bond you together or tear you apart. I really attribute the fact that it bonded us together as one of the rea- sons that we were able to do what we did." Plocki, who has been at the helm of the women's gymnastics program in Ann Ar- bor since 1990, had guided the Wolver- ines to 21 top-10 NCAA finishes, including six top-five placements, prior to last year without an NCAA title. It goes to show how hard it is to be the last team stand- ing. "It's incredibly difficult," she said. "You can be so close and it's really such a fine line separating you from third or fourth place and being a champion. We've been close so many times. "In our sport, it also has to do with being judged very subjectively. When you have the same officials that have been judging at this level for 30-plus years, it's hard to break through in their minds that they would consider us a legitimate contender for a title. In some cases, you have to be head and shoulders above. You can't be in the gray area. It's got to be black and white to be able to break through. I think that's what we were able to during last year's run." Michigan brings back almost every ma- jor piece from its championship squad, which could help set up another special campaign in Ann Arbor. Plocki is over- joyed with the amount of experience and leadership returning to the program. "We're very excited about that," Plocki said. "We had a great summer of training. We have got some great leadership in [junior] Sierra Brooks, [and seniors] Abby Heiskell and Abby Brenner. They are our tri-captains this year. Sierra specifically has really impressed me. "They are a great group and they all have strengths in different areas and mesh well as a group of captains and leaders. Sierra is just on it. She gets it and is mature. She's driven, and that's the kind of captain you want your team to be able to emulate. "We've got strong leaders and strong athletes. I'm really excited. Everyone knows about Brooks. Everyone knows about [senior] Natalie Wojcik. After last year, everyone knows about Heiskell." Another performer the coach men- tioned is junior Gabby Wilson, who ac- tually won the all-around at the team's intrasquad meet with a 39.575 score. "I'm so excited for her," Plocki said. "We're excited about what she's going to add to the depth of things. She was great last year, but really just got into the all-around and kind of got overshadowed a lot by the other three." Plocki also highlighted the develop- ment of sophomore Naomi Morrison, who was a second-team All-American on the vault last year. "She also has added more difficulty and confidence," Plocki said. "The difference- maker for this team is being able to over- come that. There is a different level of confidence and expectation in practice every day. That is going to take us a long way, too." Michigan brought in a trio of freshmen this year in Jacey Vore, Abigael Vides and Ashley Lane, though for different reasons each is expected to be eased into the program. "Looking long-term, all three of these athletes are going to contribute at a high level," Plocki said. "Unfortunately, COVID was not kind across the country to a lot of the athletes training at a lot of the private club gyms." "Jacey ruptured her Achilles and [Lane] had a couple of different surgeries last year. Jacey is coming back and doing re- ally well. We're being really intentional with how we are progressing her. She competed in two events [bars and beam] during the intrasquad and did very well. … She's a kid that had finished second at the Nastia Cup, which is a big meet if you are in the world of gymnastics. She has a lot to be able to bring to the table." Winning a national championship comes with major expectations mov- ing forward, but Plocki wants to ensure that she is behind the team and supports them no matter the result. Still, the de- mands and confidence are high. "They're really excited about the sea- son," she said. "The thing that we really want to guard against is them feeling any kind of a pressure or level of expec- tation that anything less than [an NCAA championship] is going to be not good enough. "I told them that as long as you are try- ing your hardest and giving everything you have, regardless of where we fin- ished, I will still be so incredibly proud of them. I don't want to be afraid to set [high expectations] as our goal, but I don't want them to feel the pressure. Sometimes when you put that pressure on yourself, it works against you. "We have got to get a couple of meets under our belts so I can see where this team is going to be at confidence-wise in competition. We're going to be fine and I hope that we will be up there contending at the end of the year." The first meet of the season comes Jan. 6 against Georgia at home. Fans in atten-   OLYMPIC SPORTS UPDATE Women's Gymnastics Set Up With Talent, Experience To Defend First National Title In her 32 years on the job, Plocki has guided the Wolverines to 24 Big Ten championships — the most by any coach in any sport in conference history — and returns much of the squad that last year won the program's first NCAA crown. PHOTO COURTESY MICHIGAN ATHLETICS

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