With three event titles, No. 5 Michigan takes Morgantown Regional
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Behind event titles from seniors Katie Zurales, junior Joanna Sampson and Brittnee Martinez, No. 5 Michigan won the NCAA Morgantown Regional on Saturday inside the WVU Coliseum, punching its ticket to the NCAA Championships.
Zurales tied for first on balance beam (9.900), while Martinez and Sampson tied for top honors on uneven bars (9.900). Sampson also tied for third in the all-around (39.200).
Michigan will be headed back to the NCAA Championships for the 19th time in the last 23 years. Additionally, this is the Wolverines' 10th NCAA Regional Championship and second in the last three years (2011). Following the conclusion of the meet, head coach Bev Plocki was named NCAA Regional Coach of the Year, while Sampson was named NCAA Regional Gymnast of the Year. Plocki received the honor for the sixth time in her coaching career. Sampson is the fifth UM gymnast to be named Regional Gymnast of the Year and first since Kylee Botterman in 2011.
By virtue of being the No. 1 seed, Michigan had the Olympic order rotation, meaning it started on vault. The Wolverines got off to a solid start, scoring 49.200 as a team as all six gymnasts in the rotation scored at or above a 9.800. They were led by Zurales and freshman Austin Sheppard, who each scored 9.875 after hitting their respective Yurchenko fulls, with only slight deductions coming on small steps during the landings. Sampson recorded a 9.850, while three others -- sophomore Sachi Sugiyama, junior Stephanie Colbert and senior Natalie Beilstein each received 9.800s.
After a bye, the Wolverines moved to uneven bars, where they were once again consistent, scoring 49.375 as a team as all six gymnasts in the rotation finished in the top five. Junior Shelby Gies got the ball rolling, scoring a 9.850 to open the rotation. Sophomores Annette Miele and Sugiyama followed Gies and received the same score, an especially big routine for Sugiyama after falling each of her last two times out in competition. All three tied for fourth. Martinez was up fourth, connecting on her huge Tkachev release move and sticking the landing to receive a 9.900 from the judging panel. Sampson scored the same in the fifth spot -- both tying for the event title -- before Beilstein anchored the rotation with a score of 9.875.
The pressure was on Michigan right from the beginning on balance beam after Gies couldn't stay on the beam. Martinez got the team back on track with a solid routine, recording a 9.750, the only deduction coming on a step on the dismount. Miele came through with a huge routine in the third spot, tying her career high with a score of 9.875 (tie for third), which was punctuated after hitting her double-pike dismount. Sampson followed with a solid 9.800 routine before Zurales hit hers for a 9.900 to tie for first, her highest score on that apparatus since the second meet of the season. Her routine began with a side aerial back handspring and ended with a stuck landing, resulting in a trio of 9.990s from the judges. The rotation came down to freshman Briley Casanova, who was the anchor on balance beam. Despite being in the ultimate pressure spot, she stayed on the beam to score a 9.725, preventing Michigan from counting a fall on arguably the toughest event and sending it into their final bye with a team score of 147.625. The next closest team was Kentucky at 146.600.
Michigan capped its performance on floor exercise, scoring 49.100 as a team. Beilstein started the rotation with a score of 9.875, coincidentally on the same floor she won the regional title on back in 2010. She tied for second on the event along with Sugiyama and junior Reema Zakharia. The other counted score came from Colbert (9.675). Second-place Illinois closed out on balance beam, but finished seven-tenths behind Michigan, giving the Wolverines the title.