Champions of the country in 2021. This is the title that Michigan Women’s Gymnastics is proud of in the 2022 season. Did that add pressure to their season? Maybe, but it also gave the team confidence. They did it once; they could do it again.
For the last four years I have been photographing the women’s gymnastics team on behalf of the Daily and other news, and it has become my favorite sport. Not only is capturing movement technically challenging, which creates an exciting challenge, but emotions and excitement are so present in this Michigan team that the photos come to life.
With the upcoming NCAA tournament, Michigan has a chance to repeat last year’s success. The team went 14-1 in the regular season and scored 198,200 in the Big Ten Championship last weekend to secure their 26th Big Ten Championship. They are now heading to the NCAA with the full intention of giving him everything they have. I spoke with seniors Abby Hayskel, Natalie Wojtyla and Abby Brenner, as well as juniors Sierra Brooks and freshman Jesse Vore to learn more about this season and what was on their minds after winning the national championship.
Pressure or confidence?
When asked if they feel more pressure than usual this season, all the gymnasts I spoke to said they don’t feel any pressure at all. After winning the national championship last season, they felt more confident than ever.
“We’ve had great teams all four years that I’ve been here, like incredible talent, incredible leadership, incredible people. And the difference last year was that everyone believed we could do it, ”Heiskel said. “I honestly think it gave our team the confidence it takes to start the season on a high note and keep it.”
Brooks, who last year in his sophomore year had the highest all-around score in the 39,775 National Competition, said: “There is extra pressure, but I also think that with that pressure comes more confidence because after winning. We know we can do it. “
Much of the pressure that athletes face comes from themselves. As Wojciech says: “I am usually very hard on myself. I am a perfectionist, but I think everyone who plays this sport, to some extent.
The thief added: “Going into the postseason, we can maintain the same mindset just by trying to be absolutely the best versions of ourselves and not get too involved in what’s going on around us. In fact, we just focus on ourselves and how incredible we are and how much work we put in. ”
Crisler fan support
This season, for the first time in their student careers, freshmen and sophomores were able to compete in front of fans at the Crisler Center. Despite the fact that the team itself is energetic – promoting another before, during and after their classes – the fans and the creation of the student section added something special to their season.
“Nothing like this has happened this year. My God, it’s so much fun, “Brenner said.” We like it when people go out … we want to create this fun environment. “
Although attendance at non-profit sports at the university is much lower than in sports such as men’s basketball and football, this award-winning team is turning heads. In the match against Auburn and West Virginia, the team was sold out to 12,707 spectators. And it meant a lot to the gymnasts.
“It was really cool to see our attendance also continue to grow and more,” Heiskel said. “Especially last weekend, when Auburn and West Virginia were here, it was very, very cool to see Crisler filled.”
This season has been with its challenges. In Rutgers, the team started on the bars. One gymnast fell during classes, and Wojciech’s arm was torn in half during her competition. Determined that it was a malfunction of the equipment, she was able to restart. At this event, Wojciech received 9,925.
As the match continued, junior Gabi Wilson scored a perfect 10 on the floor, and then sophomore Raine Gugin – first in rotation – got a perfect 10 on the pole vault. Then there were 10 Wojciech and finally Brenner with 10 more.
After a difficult start, the team was just waiting ahead.
Wojciech’s thinking after the accident is: “I look at each event as a new opportunity and something to be fascinated by, rather than being locked into a mistake or worrying about it. Because ultimately you can only control what is happening now. So you have to give all your attention and energy. ”
Brooks shares a similar view, saying to himself in those moments, “Okay, it happened, but we need to move on … now I’m going to go to the next event.”
During a meeting against Minnesota in January, Wojciech held a warm-up, so Vore got up and secured the goal. She was stuck with her landing.
“I wasn’t very nervous because I feel that no matter what position I’m in, I’m still doing the same routine, I’m still doing the same gymnastics,” Vore said. “I’m just saying to myself, ‘OK, follow your usual routine, you know how to do it, and the result will be.’
“We don’t need things to be perfect to thrive in our environment,” Wojciech said. “It’s a team … we take what we are given and turn it into success.”
“It’s a team … we take what we are given and turn it into success.”
– Natalia Wojcik
In order for each gymnast to perform to the maximum of her abilities – for the team to succeed – each must be incredibly resilient.
And they also need support. Head coach Bev Plock along with other coaches knows what to tell each athlete to bring them back to the moment and prepare for the next competition. And, at the same time, every gymnast has a strong inner monologue that keeps them in place during competitions. Then there is the unwavering support from their teammates.
One day at the end of the practice, senior Abby Brenner spoke cheerfully, praising each team member for their perseverance a week after the defeat by Oklahoma. On the faces of her teammates, especially the younger ones, there was a sense of gratitude for such a seemingly small moment of recognition.
During the exercises, the team stops their individual assignments to praise teammates for their success every time someone lands on the vault or hits a handstand on the bars.
Intimacy comes naturally when many other NCAA women’s gymnastics teams have less than 15-20 or more. “We are small, but we are powerful – there are only 13 of us, but we use it as a force,” Brooks said.
“We really just respect each other. We are a 100% family, ”Brenner said. “I think it just demonstrates our gymnastics and our success that we are such a tight team. Now we always say we are sisters. ”
It may be an individual competition, but team support raises each person to a higher level.
In 2019, I photographed gymnastics for the second time, and it was an NCAA regional final. I was covered in chalk, trying to figure out how to make a flip in focus when all the photographers ran towards Michigan in the corner of Krysler. Alabama’s final score has been announced, which determines whether they will advance to the next round of the tournament. I watched as the number approached, then the jumps began. Michigan advanced to the next round. Their seasonal motto rang in the air: “You can’t break steel.”
As Sam Peshek, a former Olympian, said during a meeting in Oklahoma a few weeks ago about Michigan, she uttered a phrase that gave words about the meaning of the team’s season: “They came to play.” When junior Nicoletta Kulas heard the comment, she repeated it to the team, and they immediately adopted the motto. Came to play. This team is not only hardy, energetic and supportive. They are here to win another national championship.
Photographer Madeline Hinckley can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.